Supply Chain Management: A Big Hit

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Improving the communication lines with vendors and customers can improve the bottom line as well.

by Richard McCausland

If you lined up all the hotdogs served at the Toronto SkyDome in one year, they would cover the distance of 3,241 stolen bases. It's probably not so surprising, then, that the stadium also boasts as many as 24 warehouses for Blue Jays souvenirs. But how about this: some of those warehouses are walking around!

Partner Insights

That's right. "Bob on the 200 Level," who's hawking Blue Jays caps and T-shirts to fans already in their seats, is tied into the inventory control and sales analysis modules of BusinessVision 32, effectively making him a portable warehouse, notes Michael Andrejek, director of merchandising for TBJ Merchandising. In all, BusinessVision is closely tracking product dispersed among one full-fledged store, fifteen retail kiosks, and as many as eight roving vendors.

With the aid of Rowie Walker & Associates, a Toronto-based BusinessVision reseller and software development partner, TBJ is discovering all the efficiencies that flow from Supply Chain Management. That may not have been the catchphrase TBJ used when it first approached Rowie Walker five years ago with a fairly straightforward business objective. As Andrejek recalls, "We wanted to do two things: minimize the dollar amount that's tied up in inventory, yet maximize our sales."

Tying what comes in with what goes out is pretty much the essence of SCM, which encompasses everything from working with suppliers to ensure just-in-time inventories, through automating internal business processes, to delivering goods in a timely fashion. To meet this need, middle-market accounting software publishers are patching together end-to-end software suites.

"SCM is a recognition that companies have to manage more than their internal business processes," says David Butler, executive vice president for Customer & Channel Operations, Best Software Mid-Market Division, based in Irvine, Calif. It means thinking beyond one's own four walls and pro-actively communicating with suppliers and customers, he suggests. "It's a facilitating technology"; an attitude toward how to run a business.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac International explicitly promotes its Web-enabled Advantage Series as comprising end-to-end business management applications, well suited to SCM. It takes in not only back-office financial management, but also CRM, HR, warehouse management, business intelligence (Insight), e-commerce (Exchange and eTransact), and more. It has to do all this, since "SCM is a big beast," says product management vice president Craig Downing.

It certainly involves making it easier for the company to interact with vendors and customers. As Downing points out, "There are very few companies today that aren't an integral part of some other company's success. Therefore, they have an obligation to be good corporate citizens"--that is, to furnish their partners with accurate data, provide timely service, and be easy to do business with. This is more than a matter of professional courtesy; it's essential these days to business survival since, as Downing points out, "If you're not the best partner I can find to be part of my supply chain, then I'll find someone else."

Microsoft Business Solutions offers extensive supply chain functionality within its Great Plains, Solomon, Navision, and Axapta business management packages. Over the past eighteen months, it has continued to fine-tune its overall SCM strategy with the introductions of Microsoft Customer Relationship Management, Demand Planner for forecasting, and Business Network for automated communication among trading partners.

And there's even more work to be done, according to Bjarne Schon, director of supply chain strategy and planning for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. The company recently conducted a survey of 85 mid-market companies related to "what pains and challenges they had," he says. The most common complaint was "poor base data" because of a "lack of visibility" into precisely how trading partners were performing. This was resulting in unbalanced inventories and shaky sales forecasts. "Things would sometimes go wrong, but they didn't know until it was too late to fix it," comments Schon.

MBS hopes to remedy this by offering tightly integrated solutions within the emerging .Net/BizTalk framework to ensure around-the-clock connectivity among trading partners, as well as implementing new technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification. Schon points to a pilot program in Denmark as an indication of where Microsoft is heading on the SCM front (see sidebar, page 18).

Real Need for Real Time

When TBJ first contacted Rowie Walker & Associates, the merchandising firm had a big inventory headache. The independent contractors that were running the SkyDome kiosks would typically not close their books until the completion of each series of at-home games. "We might be looking at three to three-and-a-half weeks before we knew what [inventory] those guys had left. Only then would we know if we had to re-order supplies," says Andrejek. The result was that TBJ might be out of stock on fast-moving items--thereby losing sales--or would belatedly find itself glutted with some merchandising duds. There was a crying demand for real-time data.

RWA stepped to the plate with BusinessVision 32, running on the Pervasive Btrieve database. Multiple warehouses were set up in the Inventory module, whose Receiving function allows for the rapid data entry of changes in quantity, location, cost price, and selling price as new shipments arrive. The Point of Sale module--fully integrated with Inventory, A/R and GL--displays a "ListView" of SKUs for quick browsing and selection. The package also lends itself to Customized Reporting, such as payment method reports for cash balancing by location.

"The approach taken for implementation was hands-on," says Samantha Walker, RWA's director of software development. "We were on-site to assist with setting up the general ledger, customers, suppliers, and inventory."

During a second phase, RWA installed its proprietary InBridge module, which can automatically replicate inventory descriptions (product code, pricing, etc.) throughout the multiple warehouses, as well as facilitate stock transfers. "Before each [sports] event, vendors visit the main warehouse to retrieve inventory, now easily tracked through InBridge, which groups the transfers for reconciliation after the event," explains Walker.

Microsoft Pilot Takes Off

Underscoring the importance of supply chain management in the mid-market, Microsoft Business Solutions has embarked on a pilot program that seeks to exploit the promise of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
Microsoft is working with KiMs, a Danish manufacturer that ships approximately 100,000 pallets of snacks annually, to extend the client's existing Axapta functionality in the areas of demand planning, event management, trading partner collaboration, and RFID-enabled warehouse management. The project went live in late December.
Viewed as an alternative to bar-coding, RFID-tagged items do not require direct contact or line-of-sight scanning. Rather, items-still in their carton-can automatically transmit all relevant information (batch number, expiration date, etc.) as they approach a reader. In the KiMs project, tags are monitored at storage, loading, and shipment, with the data continually fed back into Axapta.
"We expect this solution will offer users near real-time visibility into the location of products in the supply chain," comments Satya Nadella, MBS corporate vice president of development. This should result in tighter inventories.
With annual revenue of $67 million, KiMs implemented Axapta last June for manufacturing, raw materials procurement, sales order management, and warehouse management. However, the company was seeking an enhanced ability to monitor pallets of finished goods as they moved from production into a third-party warehouse. To ensure product availability, they also wanted real-time data as to where product was at various points in the supply chain.
With the pilot program, Axapta warehouse management has been integrated with the RFID platform. The total solution also comprises Microsoft Business Network for trading-partner collaboration, including the exchange of business documents, and Microsoft Demand Planner for forecasting and marketing campaign management.
With the aid of Categoric Software, a U.K.-based Microsoft development partner, the KiMs install also includes an Event Management module for purchase order confirmations, supplier delivery reminders, and in-bound supplier delivery monitoring. Aston Business Solutions, with global headquarters in Copenhagen, contributed implementation consulting.

"It is important to know exactly where inventory is," she notes. "For example, during a game, when a [kiosk] vendor is out of stock on an item, the customer can easily be directed to the closest location that has it" once the vendor consults the ListView of SKUs.

RWA also has upgraded the database engine to Pervasive SQL Workgroup, "achieving greater stability for the many users who had been added since the original implementation," notes Walker. And TBJ's own IT staff put in a wireless network last year to allow for additional real-time retail locations. RWA provided the POS hardware.

Already looking ahead, Walker anticipates gaining greater operational efficiencies for TBJ by tying BusinessVision into the Geac business management and Hyperion reporting tools used in the head office. She also sees room for improving the data output afforded by UPC bar-coding technology.

TBJ's Andrejek, meanwhile, is thoroughly pleased with what BusinessVision 32 has given him thus far--not least, scalable functionality into which his company can grow. He's considering the adoption of e-BusinessVision to facilitate remote communications--for instance, equipping the roving vendors with handheld devices.

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