October 1999 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

Celarix: E-Logistics From Any Desktop

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A total application service provider brings Internet-based, web-browser access to logistics management.

Like the Declaration of Independence, the polio vaccine, or a Van Gogh masterpiece, the web-based, vendor-neutral global logistics solution introduced by Celarix Inc., Boston, Mass., was birthed from frustration.

"Prior to our introduction of iSuite and the Celarix Exchange, there were no Internet solutions based on addressing logistics issues," declares Evan Schumacher, CEO and founder of Celarix Inc. "At the highest level, global logistics managers seek solutions that will buy, manage, and monitor all the transportation functions. Our products were designed by a team of veteran logistics managers who lived the frustrations of global supply chain management on a daily basis."

A centralized repository for logistics information, iSuite integrates purchase order data with shipping, freight payment, and customs clearance information for real-time visibility into the full life cycle of an order—from origination across every mode of transportation to delivery at the final destination. The most liberating aspect of iSuite is that it leverages the power of the Internet to provide a centralized and accessible resource of fully web-hosted solutions.

Williams-Sonoma Inc., San Francisco, Calif., is one of the first companies to implement iSuite solutions. With an explosive 25-percent growth over the last five years, the international retailer operates both mall and freestanding stores under the trade names Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Hold Everything. In addition, the company sells from branded catalogues for each of its storefronts as well as for Pottery Barn Kids and Chambers. Merchandise is imported from 40 countries representing every continent except Africa. The total volume of imports exceeds 5,000 ocean containers a year.

A complicated maze of ineffective processes preceded the iSuite implementation, says Lois Davis, vice president of international operations for Williams-Sonoma. "We had a traditional tracking tool that required installation on every desktop, as well as downloads, uploads, and reconfigurations to keep information current. Communications were always a challenge because a number of different languages were involved, as you can easily understand with suppliers from Asia to Turkey to South America.

"We had to persuade all of the different service providers to give us their information in a consistent configuration—which was never 100-percent accomplished," she says.

Because iSuite is available through simple Internet connectivity, the implementation has provided tremendous relief to Williams-Sonoma's internal desktop management. Department managers and distribution center managers can literally log on from a personal computer and monitor the status of inbound orders. At a higher level, executive management can rely on iSuite to provide valuable information for trouble-shooting bottlenecks in the supply chain or assessing carrier performance.

"The tools are very neutral in terms of assessing performance and identifying weak links in the supply chain," affirms Davis. "We didn't have the ability to study effectiveness at this level before. Now we can negotiate performance-based agreements with our service providers, and we can actually take time out of the supply chain."

In addition to the increased visibility and the flexibility to proactively manage vendors, Schumacher emphasizes the value of iSuite's sophisticated, rules-based exceptions management and alerting functionality. Every trading partner along the supply chain is impacted when there is a physical delay or a miscommunication.

"Instead of relying on phone calls, voice mail, and faxes to keep factories, vendors, shippers, and customers informed, iSuite pushes notification of exceptions to the desktop," says Schumacher. "Everyone in the process can be notified immediately when a problem occurs, and appropriate action can be taken. If repetitive problems occur, or there are consistent service disruptions with a particular vendor, iSuite identifies the source."

Costly capital investments for software, hardware, and skilled IT professionals are replaced with a flat monthly fee that covers the iSuite services and minimizes the burden on internal resources. In the truest, technical definition, Celarix is a total application service provider (ASP). Customers only need a web browser for access. Minimal responsibility resides with customers because Celarix handles all maintenance externally. Officially launched in July 1999, the estimated time to implement iSuite and have the management tools up and running is 10 to 14 weeks.

In October, Celarix rolled out its other online logistics solution: Celarix Exchange, a vendor-neutral marketplace for trading and purchasing logistics products or services. "If you can visualize space on an ocean vessel as comparable to a seat on a commercial airplane, then you will understand that transportation is essentially a perishable product," explains Schumacher. "The Exchange offers a mutually beneficial opportunity for carriers and customers to efficiently manage transportation. It allows carriers to touch a whole array of potential customers in one action, and it allows shippers to review space availability and rates to get the best service at the best cost."

As of press time, Williams-Sonoma had not had an opportunity to utilize the Exchange. However, Davis anticipates it will provide a valuable service, particularly for handling weekly fluctuations during peak seasons. Approximately 60 charter members had joined the Celarix Exchange in September. With the deregulation of ocean shipping last May, the popularity of online negotiations between carriers and shippers is sure to grow rapidly.

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