June 2001 | Commentary | Supply Chain Technology

SCEM: Managing Problems Before They Happen

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The recent advent of trading communities, trading partners, and the resulting issue of collaboration strategies has placed a new emphasis on supply chain web applications. As if the supply chain market needs additional heat, the economics of the time call for increased monitoring of business processes. Supply chain managers want that monitoring to anticipate problems before they happen, when possible.

Supply Chain Event Management (SCEM) software allows companies to respond to unplanned events on an exception basis. Here's a tool with the promise to increase efficiencies, balance inventory and demand, and make more efficient use of a company's assets. SCEM is a "significant distinguishing area in service, as well as a growth area, applying intelligent response concepts to other application areas such as supplier relationships, production processes, and logistics and fulfillment," according to Michael Bittner of AMR Research.

Viewlocity, based in Atlanta, Ga., is actively developing SCEM software because it sees a growing market for monitoring capabilities in the supply chain. Mary Higgins, the company's chief marketing officer, brings an interesting combination of depth of experience in actual application processes and an understanding of technology. This experience and knowledge gives Higgins a perceptive view of business and the supply chain. She is well aware of the shifts in the logistics and supply chain businesses toward extended relationship management.

"For Viewlocity, a concerted move toward supply chain event management is the living pulse of our business," she says. Viewlocity's business includes the basics of monitoring transactions among trading partners, achieving agreement between logistics demand and assets, keeping up with real-time visibility of both customer orders and fulfillment operations, integrating transportation modes, and giving customers the information they want in a form that allows them to make predictive evaluations of events.

Higgins has closely followed AMR Research, Gartner Group, Forrester Research, and other industry analysts as they have tracked and defined the SCEM territory. The analysts don't always agree, but when have they ever? Higgins sees the core of SCEM as "managing the gap between the supply chain and supply chain execution. In the gap, there are layers of exceptions that need to be managed," she says.

With a customer base that includes DHL, American Standard, Ericsson, Volvo, and Ryder, and headquarters in Europe, London, and Singapore, in addition to its corporate base in Atlanta, Viewlocity has performed more than 3,000 global integration jobs. The company is the number-two integration player in Asia, according to Higgins. "We work with the reality of European and Asian standards," she notes.

Asian contract manufacturers often have little technical sophistication and need a supplied browser-based system. Viewlocity also works with data acquired from the supply chain through XML, and with legacy systems such as EDS. Customers have different levels of sophistication, but they all have to be managed in an integrated way.

Within the networks that Viewlocity connects to, companies may rely on a switchboard, wireless technology, cellular technology, and voice response systems. The company may have to track critical data from shipboard and "ping" an employee to get an update on the status of a job.

The variety and complexity of the supply chain requires that a vendor's system be able to perform a range of services—acting on one level as an integration broker, on another level with a PC-based system for contract management, and on a third level with everything from a switchboard to tags to wireless cell phones.

"You need it all, as limited information in these contexts can be harmful," Higgins notes. "Trading communities require a common language and a set of business rules."

Viewlocity crosses traditional domains. That means monitoring "your" orders and "their" orders, as well as inventory and transportation. It means being able to track and acknowledge sudden shifts in demand. Take, for example, Nike's sneaker crisis. Nike had too many blue sneakers and not enough yellow ones because it lacked value chain event management. So the new world of supply chain events evolves.

As Higgins reminds us, "The solution is not just more visibility within the supply chain. The core problem to solve is to monitor for exceptions. It means looking at exceptions when such exceptions provide vital data and define meaningful deviation. It means being able to supply corrective scenarios that take into account the almost instantaneous changes of today's business, and offer more intuitive solutions."

Viewlocity has one of the more dynamic web sites in the logistics and supply chain marketplace. It is right up front with its concentration and commitment to letting customers monitor their supply chains.

Check out www.viewlocity.com for more information on the company.

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