December 2003 | Commentary | IT Matters

Where's My Stuff?

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Supply chain managers responding to a recent Aberdeen Group survey highlight the following items as their top three supply chain challenges:

  1. Identifying shipping delays, errors, and exceptions.
  2. Providing shipment visibility for supply chain partners.
  3. Integrating with other units and processes of the enterprise.

These challenges mirror the growing complexity of today's supply chains. Networks of suppliers, in-house and outsourced manufacturers, distributors, and third-party logistics providers, more than ever, rely on information to synchronize and speed the movement of goods to customers.

Real Time, All the Time

Just as an order delivered one minute, one hour, or one day late can trigger a chain reaction of dissatisfaction, so too can information. Today's real-time enterprise doesn't just rely on information, it depends on timely information. The era of batch data is over and has been replaced by an "always on," less-forgiving credo, one embodied in three words emblazoned on Amazon.com: "Where's my stuff?"

If you can't answer that question for your customers and supply chain partners anytime, anywhere, be prepared to lose some business.

All constituents in the supply chain, from suppliers to the end customer, have a stake in the real-time enterprise, one driven by instant communication and seamless access to information. While advances in enterprise applications are helping move businesses toward this ideal, software is only part of the solution.

The data that populates real-time enterprises must itself be real-time, coming fresh from the front lines of fulfillment, whether in the warehouse, on the loading dock, or in transit. Wireless data capture and communication are actively transforming these environments.

Wireless technology provides the enterprise with new levels of visibility into supply chain events and milestones, enabling companies to reduce safety stocks, increase inventory turns, agilely respond to supply chain disruptions, and better service customers.

The advancement of wireless throughout the supply chain is happening because a host of technologies, hardware devices and partnerships has matured, providing enterprises and their logistics teams with more complete business solutions, at a lower cost of ownership, than ever before.

These technologies include:

  • GPS, once affordable to only the largest of companies, is now resident in wireless handsets, making new vehicle tracking and fleet management solutions easier to deploy and more cost effective.
  • RFID can now be read by scanners embedded in handsets providing instantaneous tracking information at every point in the supply chain.
  • Integrated Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) and Wide Area Networks (WANs) provide new levels of in-building coverage to support wireless warehouses and receiving areas.
  • Nationwide walkie-talkie capabilities supplement nationwide cellular service, providing logistics managers with instant voice communications.

Eliminating GuessworkThis system of wireless innovation answers the call of logistics professionals for solutions that provide greater security and visibility. Today, by capturing and sharing real-time location and fulfillment data wirelessly, it is possible for companies to take the guesswork out of order fulfillment. They can know with certainty who signed for a given order, what truck that order is on, where the carrier is at any given time, and when the order will arrive. This added precision translates into a win for both customer service and operational efficiency.

In fact, many businesses now assess logistics providers as much on their ability to deliver information as goods. And manufacturers' ongoing push toward outsourcing and lean inventory environments puts an even further premium on timely data capture and information exchange.

Today's logistics providers are expected to handle data as agilely as pallets and parcels, bringing to the table best-in-class networks and practices for maximum visibility and performance. Wireless technology is core to this vision.

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