January 2000 | Commentary | Supply Chain Technology

Capturing a 'Supply Chain Moment'

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A "Kodak moment" can be the moment that grandma sees the new baby or Aunt Helen gives the proud graduate a check. What is a "supply chain moment"?

The supply chain deals with a very complex set of technologies and issues. Technologies are stacked over the supply chain like planes over O'Hare on Thanksgiving. Any company or enterprise that organizes itself around the concept of a supply chain knows that the elements are, at the very least, dynamic.

By dynamic, I mean that the supply chain acts like many chains operating simultaneously. Each part, or package, or order has a life, information flow, and physical movement all its own—both in real time and in the ebb and flow of information from databases and data warehouses. These actions can run over months, or years, or for the life cycle of the product or part within the enterprise—or within the data of those who supply or distribute and sell the product or part.

As the supply chain makes common cause with the Internet and e-commerce, the level of dynamism increases exponentially. Why does "going electronic" make that much difference?

The web and its transaction methods are fundamentally different than those transactions pre-web. Web transactions can be within an identified community of buyers and sellers, or an unidentified mass of buyers and sellers. Establishing when, what, how much, and how often is up for negotiation.

A supply chain moment, therefore, has to be a slice through the process as it is happening in time. Any form of bad quality in manufacturing results in a cost to the community of nation, according to Dr. Genichi Taguchi, the great proponent of quality control. Taguchi recognizes that manufactured things, events, and quality connect with each other.

In that same spirit, it's important for us to see that the elements of the supply chain are all connected to each other in various degrees of importance and consequence. There is no room for separate islands within a supply chain. The connections are as a tree with many branches; the connections are as a sequence in time.

A part ordered sets off a host of responses—bills of materials, bills of lading, contractual conditions, movement of goods, money, and endless information flows. A part ordered means a part that may be replaced. It may mean a part to be redesigned, or a part that has to meet new kitting requirements. It may mean a part that has to get a new barcode designation. A part ordered may mean a trucker has to carry a load of new materials from a dock that transported by sea raw materials for the new part. It may mean assigning particular goods to temporary inventory, and cost accounting.

The interactive and integrated supply chain exists, more and more, in real time. That fact has affected the suppliers of software and hardware supply chain solutions.

This growing awareness of the supply chain's multi-dimensional needs is reflected in the recent partnership between XATA Corporation (www.xata.com) and Symbol Technologies Inc. (www.symbol.com). The agreement integrates Xata's OpCenter suite of fleet management software with Symbol's LOMAS architecture.

The integration results in a seamless fit between fleet operations and discrete logistics across a single platform. XATA and Symbol also have agreed to develop an onboard computer system that will target users who want to integrate inventory management and fleet management in the vehicle and on a single platform.

It would be difficult to find a better example of the move toward pulling together the complexities of information and logistics within the supply chain. Each time an alliance like this takes place, the user is far better served. Symbol's expertise in technologies such as bar coding and communications, coupled with XATA's expertise in fleet management and route optimization, along with its existing onboard communications and satellite positioning, is a winning combination.

The truck and its operator become far more than a means of goods movement, and even more than the availability of simple data on truck and route conditions. The truck's onboard computer—with a robust set of software solutions—becomes a moving logistics center.

The driver of a truck equipped with an onboard computer and loaded software for logistics management presents a perfect image of our "supply chain moment."

The goods, and the information about those goods, are active. They are integrated and can have an effect on the other elements of the supply chain as pickup, transportation, and delivery take place. It's the electronic net come alive.

As the supply chain makes common cause with the Internet and e-commerce, the level of dynamism increases exponentially. Why does "going electronic" make that much difference?

The partnership between XATA and Symbol Technologies acknowledges the supply chain's multi-dimensional needs.

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