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Communicate real-time capacity and price information
Adjust purchasing preferences based on the communicated real-time capacity and price information
Communicate adjusted purchase information corresponding to the adjusted purchasing preferences
Adjust at least one of a capacity and a price based on 1) the most recently communicated capacity and price information and 2) the most recently communicated purchase information
Communicate and adjust in a real-time
collaborative communication to achieve an efficient balance between the capacity, price, etc.
SYSTEM, METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR INTEGRATED SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
 The present invention claims the benefit of U.S.
Provisional Application No. filed on May 22, 2000,
and entitled Retail Supply Chain Information Integration System.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION  1. Field of the Invention
 The present invention relates generally to integrated information exchange. More specifically, the present invention relates to a business community integration tool for providing to manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and other trading partners integrated, real-time access to such supply chain data as supply/inventory, demand, delivery status, etc.
 2. Related Art
 In recent years, there has been dramatic growth in electronic commerce, particularly over such public networks as the Internet. With this growth has come increased competition between entities conducting business over the Internet. Such competition generates tremendous pressure on these entities to develop an edge over competing entities. Means for independent entities to achieve such an edge may include increased exposure, improved efficiency, etc. However, for entities that belong to business communities, a different dynamic often exists. For example, in business communities where supply chain management is a concern, additional complications may arise, often related to intercommunication amongst partnering entities. In these communities, the streamlining of value chain inefficiencies and the breaking down of information barriers become a must.
 Attempts have been made to address such issues. However, proposed solutions tend to be company-centric, and thus are more applicable to individual entities. As applied to cross-entity environments, which depend on business process synchronization among trading partners, these solutions are limited. The attempted application of company-centric solutions to more complex problems that arise in attempting to integrate business communities often leads to disparate procedures and processes that are inflexible and costly to support. And current business processes tend to leave significant information gaps between trading partners. For example, a retailer may place an order with a supplier and get no information, such as allocation status and expected ship date, until the product has been or will shortly be shipped. This may occur days or even weeks after the order has been placed. As another example, retail buyers typically do not have access to information relating to inventory, such as time-phased availability to promise (ATP) information, often rendering decisions on merchandise rollout plans and others difficult to make.
 Electronic data interchange (EDI) has been proposed as an external integration method. However, EDI tends to be more effective in certain limited environments, such as those involving primarily automated transactions, and less effective in the broader class of more diverse business community environments.
 In addition, industry portals and independent trading exchanges are known. These entities typically focus on
content management, presentation and transactions for a broad range of industry group requirements. These collaborations fail to address the problem of synchronizing and improving an efficiency of trading partners' business processes and systems. These collaborations also tend to experience heavy competition themselves.
 What is needed is a system that provides integrated data access to supply chain partners, such as factories, wholesalers, retailers and retail customers, transportation companies, etc. Preferably, such a system would not compete with such entities as ITEs and others in the field, but would integrate them, providing the "plumbing" for integrated exchange of information, vastly improving collaboration in areas such as order tracking, item master information and inventory visibility. Furthermore, such a system should not only integrate data exchange between partners, but should preferably do so in real time such that the data exchange is timely and meaningful. Thus, trading partners could make more informed business decisions, and could make them earlier than is possible with known systems.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention includes a business community integration tool for improving operations and increasing Internet capabilities of trading partners by streamlining their inefficiencies and breaking down information barriers between them. The invention may be especially useful in retail supply chains, which typically include such trading partners as manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, retail customers, transportation companies and trading exchanges. Associated retail products may include hard goods, soft goods, home furnishings, appliances, office products, apparel and footwear, grocery products and others. Integrated information may include remotely accessible corporate information, electronic product catalog contents, order and inventory status, etc.
 The network of trading entities currently in existence is complicated and sometimes relatively unsophisticated. Particularly among manufacturers, which often do not have standardization and/or compliance pressures from their customers. Moreover, systems vary widely. Nonetheless, the present invention preferably provides the plumbing, technology enablement, communication means, etc., for many data integration initiatives, such as the business-to-business (B2B) electronic data interchange (EDI) initiative, amongst these widely varying entities. Because trading entities vary by such factors as size, geography, information technology (IT) experience, education and business arrangement, the invention is preferably adaptable to trading entities having systems of multiple qualities.
 In one aspect, the present invention provides an interface with a less advanced system. Such a system may be a browser-based system-to-user interface, as may be required for integration with certain retailers. In one embodiment, the interface is employed as an extranet application for business partners, for example. The present invention may thus provide visibility into product production status, shipment information (ASN), carton labels for a streamlined receiving process, etc., which will often lead to improved warehouse management and in increase in inventory throughput. Further benefits may include increased inventory accuracy, reduced manual paperwork and data entry,
forward visibility into supply chain, faster/more accurate receiving processes, fewer over-shipments, ability to measure shipper/carrier performance, reduced safety stock, provision of a basis for business process re-engineering and overall improved internal efficiency and customer service.
 Suppliers or wholesalers, on the other hand, often feel pressure from their customers to provide greater accessibility to inventory, order status, etc. In another aspect, the present invention acts as a system-to-system interface. For example, the present invention may provide an interface between a manufacturer and a wholesaler that have technologically advanced systems.
 In yet another aspect, the present invention provides an interface to peripheral trading partners, such as industry vertical portals, ITEs and consolidation portals. This interface is preferably implemented as a system-tosystem interface, and preferably is further accessible to individual customers via the trading partners, such as through their web sites.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES
 The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the features, advantages, and principles of the invention. In the figures, like reference numbers indicate identical or functionally similar elements.
 FIG. 1 shows block diagram of a data integration system of the present invention;
 FIG. 2 shows a block diagram of a data integration system of the present invention;
 FIG. 3 shows a block diagram of a system of the present invention having a data extraction layer; and
 FIG. 4 shows a flow chart of a method of the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
 Referring to FIG. 1, an embodiment of the present invention is illustrated as a system 100. The system 100 includes a factory or wholesaler location 120, a supplier or manufacturer location 140 and a retailer location 160. The present invention, however, encompasses systems having more, fewer and differing entities. For example, the system may include only a manufacturer and a retailer. Alternatively, the system may include a wholesaler, and an entity acting both as a supplier and a retailer. The system may also include entities dealing in raw materials, such as fabrics and accessories, and others.
 In one embodiment, the system 100 of the present invention is designed as a wholesaler-centric system. That is, the wholesaler location 120 includes means for bulk data storage, server capability, etc., and controls access by any participating manufacturer locations 140 and/or retailer locations 160, and any other participating entities, to supply chain and related information. Thus, the exemplary wholesaler location 120 of FIG. 1 is illustrated as including a processor 122, a database 124 and a server 126. And although the system has been illustrated for a wholesaler
centric solution, the system 100 may be implemented and supported by any trading partner, or even an independent entity.
 The exemplary manufacturer location 140 is illustrated as including a workstation 142 and/or a personal computer 142, such as, but not limited to, an IBM compatible, Macintosh, etc. Likewise, the exemplary retailer location 160 is illustrated as including a workstation 162 and/or a personal computer (PC) 164. In this embodiment, the manufacturer location 140 and retailer location 160 may only be enabled for accessing/providing data over a network.
 While the trading partner locations have been illustrated as having particular technological features, it should be noted that any participating location might include any or all of the illustrated features and/or others known in the art. Of course, the illustrated system 100 is merely exemplary as well, and thus, the system 100 need not include all of the entities illustrated. Furthermore, the system 100 may include multiple instances of any or all of the entities illustrated and may include additional related or unrelated entities as desired.
 As is further illustrated by FIG. 1, the wholesaler location 120, the manufacturer location 140 and the retailer location 160 are coupled via a network 110. In one embodiment, any or all of the wholesaler location 120, the manufacturer location 140 and the retailer location 160 include a portion configured as an industry portal (a.k.a. vertical portal or vortal) accessible over the network 110. This network 110 may be any means for intercommunication, including a hardwired or wireless network, or a combination thereof, such as the worldwide network broadly defined as the Internet. Furthermore, the present invention may be implemented on a network that is accessible by the public, or on a private network, such as a private intranet or extranet, local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN), for example. In a preferred embodiment, the present invention is implemented on a public network such as Internet, while utilizing a security model or other interface that limits access to particular information to intended parties only. For example, login and password information may be required to access the system. In addition, a secure communications protocol, such as secure hypertext transfer protocol (HTTPS), may be employed if desired. As used herein, the terms 'network' and 'Internet' are intended to encompass not only the hardwired network, but also any means of interfacing therewith (e.g., cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), satellite, and others)
 In general, the present invention preferably enables a real-time collaborative communication between various entities via various means of communication. Preferably, in interfacing systems of trading partners, intersystem communication is based on a standard communications format, such that multiple parties, particularly sophisticated parties, may be readily integrated into the system. However, in interfacing a business partner or typical individual customer having a less sophisticated system (having only a network connection and a browser, for example), a system of the present invention is preferably configured such that an interface may be alternatively employed, such as via an extranet application.
 The flexibility provided by such an arrangement preferably allows a system of the present invention to extract
data from underlying, pre-existing partner systems that may be widely variable. These underlying systems may include enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, warehouse management systems (WMS), trading management systems (TMS) and others. This data may then be integrated without a need for such traditional measures as telephone calls and document facsimile, thus allowing the information to be tracked and shared by partnering systems with minimal manual effort. Once integrated, access may be provided not only to the trading partner systems, but also to portals and exchanges. In doing so, the present invention is able to not only provide this information, but also to further provide an industry-specific infrastructure to these entities.
 In one embodiment, the present invention acts as a system-to-system interface. For example, the present invention may provide an interface between a wholesaler location 120 and a retailer location 140. As discussed above, where trading partners are sufficiently technologically sophisticated in their information systems, a standard communication format may be utilized. In one embodiment, for example, the generalized markup language (SGML), specifically the extensible markup language (XML), is used. More specifically, the usage of such a format as XML may conform to a further standard or framework as XML BizTalk or another known to one skilled in the art.
 In another embodiment, the present invention provides an interface between a wholesaler and retailer. Such an interface may also be system-to-system, or may be a systemto-user interface. In one embodiment, the interface is employed as an extranet application for business partners having only a browser-based system, for example. These partners may thereby be granted access to an item catalog and to such information as order status, etc. As will be further discussed below, the wholesaler in this example may control visibility to certain or all retailers and/or others having access to such information as inventory and/or allocation or available to promise (ATP) items. In addition, retailers may set alerts regarding a status of any of the above parameters or others.
 In yet another aspect, the present invention provides an interface to peripheral partners, such as industry vertical portals, ITEs and consolidation portals. This interface is preferably implemented as a system-to-system interface, but is preferably further accessible to users via the trading partners.
 Regardless of a communication means provided, information such as, but not limited to, capacity, demand, price, substitute availability, production status, order status, delivery status, catalog items, inventory visibility, container advance shipping notices (ASNs), etc., may preferably be accessed and shared among trading partners. Information may also be provided, if desired, via infomediaries, ITEs, various portals such as industry vertical portals and consolidation portals, and others. Methods of the present invention for information access and exchange will be further discussed below.
 FIG. 2 illustrates an embodiment of a system of the present invention in greater detail as a system 200. Like the system 100 of FIG. 1, the system 200 may include a manufacturer location 220, a wholesaler location 240 and a retailer location 260 enabled for communication over a network 210. The system 200 is preferably further accessible
to entities including a delivery or transportation location 280 and a trading partner location 290 coupled to the network 210. As illustrated, the trading partner location 290 may include such entities as a corporate portal 292, an independent trading exchange (ITE) 294, an industry portal 296, as well as other industry trading partners as desired. Note that illustrated supply chain trading partners, such as the manufacturer location 220, the wholesaler location 240 and the retailer location 260, may be independent, or may themselves, in whole or in part, be party to their own trading exchanges. Thus, the system 200 may include independent entities, may include entities that are a part of a single trading exchange, may include multiple trading exchanges themselves, etc. The system 200 may further be accessible to the general public, either through independent means or through one or more of the illustrated entities. Preferably, partners of the system 200 limit the data to which members of the public, as well as other partners and other participating entities, have access.
 In a preferred embodiment, the system 200 is implemented as a software-based package or comparable system integration tool. The system 200 may be supported at any or all of the manufacturer location 220, the wholesaler location 240, the retailer location 260, the transportation location 280, the trading partner location 290 and at locations of any other entities that are a part of the system 200.
 Alternatively, the system 200 may be implemented as a hosted application, such as by an application service provider (ASP), for example. Through the use of a widearea-network such as the Internet, the present invention may be implemented without incurring the overhead, functional limitations and expenses of traditional data integration systems. And through the combined use of a standardized protocol, such as XML, and browser-based technology, a more universal system is made possible that could allow independent trading partners of varying sizes and technological abilities to be integrated more easily and efficiently. Further details of potential architectures and associated functionality of systems of the present invention are hereinafter described.
 Implementation of one embodiment of the present invention is illustrated in greater detail in FIG. 3, which shows a system 300. The system 300 has a browser location 320; a supply chain location 330, which may be, for example, a manufacturer location, a wholesaler location, a retailer location, etc.; and a trading partner location 340. Each of these locations is preferably coupled to the others by a network 310. Again, a typical system 300 of the present invention will include multiple supply chain locations 330.
 The illustrated exemplary system 300 of FIG. 3 includes a highly configurable, real-time, data extraction layer 350. The data extraction layer 350 preferably allows the system 300 to provide great flexibility, in that entities that have systems supported by widely varying technologies may nonetheless be integrated for data exchange by the system 300. For example, the data extraction layer 350 is preferably capable of pulling data from entity back-end systems using standard methodologies, sequential queried logic (SQL) statements, open data base connectivity (ODBC) connections and standard linkages to such backend systems (BES) as systems, applications and products
(SAP), Java development environment (JDE), pick management systems (PkMS), Internet protocol (IP) based systems, etc.
 A data extraction layer 350 is provided for facilitating communication between the respective portion and remaining portions of the system. The data extraction layer 350 is preferably coupled to at least one supply chain location 330, such as the manufacturer location 220, the wholesaler portion 240 or the retailer portion 260 of FIG. 2, etc. In one embodiment, for example, the data extraction layer 350 comprises a back-end interface for extracting raw data from the portion to which the data extraction layer 350 is coupled. The extracted raw data can then be converted, in real time, to a format readable by remaining portions of the system 300.
 In one specific embodiment, the data extraction layer 350 includes a pull system for translating data from a format of a legacy system to a more standardized format, such as the Extensible Mark-Up Language (XML) format. The format of the legacy system may be very basic, such as a browser-based system of the browser location 320, which may be adapted only for entry of plain text data, for example. The translation may occur automatically, or at a command of a user.
 The following is an illustrative example of a realtime, collaborative exchange of information that may occur between entities practicing the present invention. This example illustrates the use of the invention to improve collaboration in the retail supply chain. Exemplary participants here include Tommy Hilfiger (a supplier to retailers), Federated Department Stores (a retailer), an apparel manufacturer (in Mexico), and a domestic transportation carrier. Additional participants may include a freight forwarder, a freight consolidator, a customs broker, a customs agency, a freight de-consolidator, retail customers, etc.
 As a supplier to major retailers throughout the United States and the rest of the world, providing branded apparel and footwear products, Tommy Hilfiger may wish to obtain some of its sports apparel merchandise from the manufacturer in Mexico. Federated Department Stores (FDS), which includes Macy's, for example, is a national retailer that owns several chains of department stores throughout the United States. For this example, it is assumed that FDS retailers sell a multitude of products including apparel, footwear, fashion accessories, and furniture. It is further assumed that FDS wishes to acquire from Hilfiger at least some of the Hilfiger brand sports apparel.
 In preparation for the winter season, buyers for the various divisions within Federated Department Stores (FDS) may begin developing a product plan months in advance. In this example, further assume that, based upon an analysis of fall sales figures, market research, and an unseasonably warm beginning to the winter, for example, Macy's buyers have determined that the Tommy Hilfiger line of men's sports apparel will continue to be very popular in the southeastern U.S. for at least the first month or two of winter. For simplicity, it is assumed that there is one main buyer at Macy's that is responsible for ordering all of the men's sports apparel for all of the Macy's stores in the southeastern U.S. Traditionally, buyers have not had the ability to react quickly to changes in market demand or rapidly developing fashion trends. Such ability may be advantageous, as the
buyer could act on this information quickly in order to take advantage of the developing trends and conditions. The present invention may provide this opportunity.
 In this embodiment, we will assume that a system 100 of the present invention is supported by the wholesaler Tommy Hilfiger. As noted above, in our example, the buyer already has a sense for which products will continue to sell well into winter. With this information the buyer may log into the system 100 supported by Hilfiger to obtain information about the specific products needed. The buyer may be located, for example, in the Macy's office in New York City and can use his personal computer (PC) to access an Internet web site affiliated with the system 100, enabling retail supply chain collaboration with the supplier Tommy Hilfiger.
 Based upon identifying information (i.e. credentials such as organization, role, department, personal ID combination, etc.) entered by the Macy's buyer, the buyer may be given immediate access to all of the products in his area of interest (men's sports apparel). In accordance with wishes of a Hilfiger administrator, the buyer may be prevented from viewing information related to products outside his or her particular area (e.g. products for other departments and products offered to other Tommy Hilfiger customers). The system 100 may also ensure that other departments and other competitors do not have access to product information such as product pricing and inventory information intended specifically for the Macy's buyer. In this manner, participating entities may strategically tailor buying and selling prices, preferences, etc., depending on a particular entity or transaction, for example. In one embodiment, an entity may control not only absolute access (that is, access versus non-access), but also a quality or quantity of information as viewed by other entities. For example, a supplier may control inventory visibility such that a first entity sees inventory as zero, while a second entity (that the supplier prefers, perhaps due to a known willingness to pay a higher price, for example) sees inventory availability. In a similar manner, a buyer may manifest its own willingness to pay a higher price to certain sellers (for quality reasons, for example) by displaying a greater demand or buy price to those preferred sellers.
 The information provided to the buyer is preferably in real time, based upon the actual information in various systems and locations within the Tommy Hilifiger (supplier) organization. Product offering and product pricing information, for example, may be obtained through real-time access to Hilfiger's Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system (see e.g., FIG. 3). Product availability information may be obtained through real-time access to Tommy Hilfiger's existing Warehouse Management System (WMS). Upon extracting the information from these various systems in real time, the information is preferably displayed. In one embodiment, the information is assembled into the Extensible Markup Language (XML) format and then displayed to the buyer. The buyer may then view the final presentation of the information in any desired manner, such as by accessing the information as an XML web page using an Internet browser on the buyer's computer system.
 In this embodiment of the system 100, the buyer is able to access the system 100 and view the desired products and the associated pricing and inventory information.