By Doug Bartholomew No longer merely a maker of warehouse management systems, Optum Inc. on June 26 began offering a new supply-chain management system that enables manufacturers to keep closer tabs on every customer order and shipment. The software is aimed at helping companies reduce excess inventory by streamlining the supply chain, cutting wasted time and reducing stock. "TradeStream has extended our 'four walls' to surround Invacare's multi-partner trading community with a virtual warehouse," says Gerry Blouch, president and chief operating officer at Invacare, a $1 billion manufacturer of home healthcare equipment and mobility aids based in Elyria, Ohio. "It provides realtime visibility of inventory positions and order status across our enterprise, distributors and customers. It will allow us to establish a direct replenishment program to smooth demand volatility and eliminate costly safety stock -- a benefit to both Invacare and our customers." In the world of e-commerce, companies are going to differentiate themselves with the ability to provide accurate information about inventory and orders, says Henry Bruce, vice president of marketing at Optum, based in White Plains, N.Y. "We provide transparency to manufacturers' supply chains by aggregating fulfillment information and providing realtime inventory information." TradeStream can be customized easily to give the user key data, such as a list of all late orders. Adds Bruce Richardson, senior vice president for research at AMR Research, a manufacturing IT research firm in Boston, "TradeStream is a direct hit in dramatically reducing the trillion dollar inventory investment U.S. companies have sitting in warehouses. ERP and supply chain planning systems are not designed to address this problem."