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Network World - DETROIT - The Big Three automakers are finally ready to make Covisint, the business-to-business Web portal they founded three years ago to reach suppliers, the central engine in their e-commerce and messaging systems.
At last week's Auto-Tech conference, DaimlerChrysler said by year-end it would phase out its private supplier extranet and use Covisint to do business with its 9,000 suppliers. Ford said it intends to use Covisint to exchange electronic data interchange (EDI) orders and design data. And although GM will continue to use its own SupplyPower Web portal, the company said it expects Covisint to support its most important XML-based priority-messaging and document delivery service.
This is a significant change from Covisint's current role as an online catalog and auction house for almost 100,000 registered trading partners, and more in keeping with the grand vision laid out when Covisint was announced in 2000.
While it's taken time to rev up the engine, Covisint is now bringing in about $60 million in fees and expects to be profitable next year, said Brad Pfeiffer, client relationship director to Ford. "We're just going to focus now on what we were founded to do - provide an industry portal and the messaging piece," he said.
Even though the Big Three continue to bicker about some things, such as the use of XML, they say Covisint is now central to their e-commerce strategies with suppliers. Each car company is making more business applications available through the Covisint portal.
"We want to drive Covisint as the single source of entry" for parts suppliers, Greg Wise, manager of business-to-business and portal management at DaimlerChrysler told the audience of vehicle-parts manufacturers at Auto-Tech.
He said Europe is moving more slowly in making applications available via Covisint, requiring suppliers to physically sign legal documents such as confidentiality agreements to use Covisint. U.S.-based operations are content to just click on a Web-based form to indicate agreement.
But Wise said all DaimlerChrysler parts manufacturers will be included in a new Global Supplier Directory on Covisint. Suppliers typically buy manufactured goods from other suppliers to incorporate into what they sell to DaimlerChrysler, so that could help suppliers locate each other to do business around the globe.
One advantage for suppliers making the mandatory switch to Covisint, Wise noted, is that Covisint can offer them each a single sign-on ID. This will let each user gain access to up to 150 applications via only one ID logon.
"There's a huge inefficiency for suppliers that have 30 passwords and IDs," but that's what Covisint and many other portals have required, said Dave Miller, Covisint CSO. To address the problem, Covisint has introduced a federated logon system to make it possible for suppliers to use one ID for multiple applications.
To get the new federated logon for employees, each supplier will need to name a security officer as the key Covisint contact. Covisint will hand off the requests to the appropriate security administrators at the automakers, who will route the request to the division that owns the desired application.