One of the biggest challenges in supply chain is working collaboratively with trading partners.
How do companies maintain their enterprise integrity, yet share critical information — real-time and all the time?
Today’s multi-threading collaborative communications require transaction layers, planning layers, and people-to-people layers. The trend has been growing for solutions providers to incorporate collaborative tools within their supply chain solutions. We call this Collaborative Convergence. (You can read this and other collaboration articles in the collaboration collection.) Users today are accustomed to using interactive dialogue — teleconferences and mobile communications — as well as relying on traditional technologies to plan, change orders, and resolve issues with trading partners. In addition, social networking for the supply chain is beginning to attract users. However, these apps most often exist as standalone technology offerings. This idea of ‘converging’ supply chain solutions to enable collaboration was discussed at the TAKE Solutions customer conference, aptly named Converge 2012.
TAKE Solutions Collaborative Solutions
As Srinivasan HR, Vice Chairman and Founder of TAKE Solutions, told the customer base at the Converge 2012, “TAKE is a global company, applying their domain knowledge with local experts who understand their industries, their local and global supply chain challenges.” One thing that was clear from talking to TAKE employees and customers is that TAKE clearly understands the nature of successful supply chain management: it is about integration across systems, facilities, enterprises, and trading blocs — in a high availability delivery model. It must be accessible to all the trading partners — in the cloud and in the each facility, from item-level serialization to aggregated planning information. That is an environment that is difficult to create, but critical for today’s supply chain operations.
For a collaboration application to be successfully adopted, the solutions provider has to successfully bridge enterprise specific and shared processes. Some functionality better serves the supply chain as ‘linked’ applications — applications that reside between trading partners. Other work flows have enterprise-specific as well as shared elements, while other functions (for things like revenue planning) are used only within an enterprise. So supply chain collaboration solutions have to create complementary functionality that integrates with what users may have in their SC or ERP solutions, yet build features that reside between partners.
Last year, TAKE announced their OneSCM® collaboration platform, which addresses these needs and packages the many applications they have developed. They still have the mobile Gemini solution (Gemini Series®) which integrates with OneSCM through integration and an analytics layer. They provide a robust vision for enterprises that are traveling down the collaboration path. Firms like Applied Material, Baker Hughes, Taro, and midmarket up-and-comers such as Midmark Corporation1 effectively use multiple layers of this collaborative environment. In fact, Wendy Reyes of Applied Material told us they have an “extremely successful supplier collaboration program” that leverages their TAKE solutions. Baker Hughes, another progressive company, continues to pursue deeper B2B collaborative practices with their suppliers using OneSCM.2
Firstly, let’s take a look at OneSCM’s overall mapping of the collaborative interaction landscape between customers and their suppliers (Figure 1).
OneSCM has some novel and progressive capabilities to ensure multi-threaded communications between trading partners. For example, their ‘notes’ capability takes changes, demand, etc. and allows the user to package them up in a document that is sharable in a variety of person-to-person communication models such as email. It can also be shared via social network or posted in the cloud, so that it is visible to key stakeholders (and not just buried in a single email). These notes are not just for alerting users to changes; they also form an audit trail of communication and changes so that users can determine how and why changes were made. This all exists within the overall foundation of a cloud collaboration network. Users can add specific modules which are part of TAKE’s collaborative portfolio.
TAKE also has future plans to implement an ESN (enterprise social network) to support collaboration across multiple supply chain processes. This system will integrate with document collaboration systems like SharePoint to support transactional, day-to-day communications, as well as more formal document creation for specs, complex ordering, etc. Always a leader in mobile, they are continuing to extend their capability to operate on smart phones for person-to-person communication and social networking, rather than being limited just to operations activities on mobile warehouse devices.3
TAKE has defined eight major business processes between trading partners. Here are key
- Demand Collaboration — includes forecast visibility, collaborative planning and order promising. It is particularly useful for the B2B environment with existing trading partners who have open or blanket POs with their suppliers. Demand Collaboration can also conduct a very traditional workflow process, taking users through all the steps to mutual confirmation, leveraging both partners’ MRP and ensuring the user that all the essential steps in the process have been completed.
Again, integration is key — not replicating, but complementing enterprise systems — ensuring operational integrity.
- Supplier Relationship Management — a rich web-based sourcing and procurement solution. It includes:
- SupplierScorecards and Certifications
- Compliance, Content Management and Master Data Management, integrating backend systems such as SharePoint, and suppler catalogues.
- Procurement Collaboration — this module supports a rich set of purchasing process such as RFQs, purchasing, as well as the follow-through — that is, through the pick, pack, ship process, and processing ASNs. (More on the shipping process later.) Procure-to-pay represents the strongest module for TAKE, though other supply chain elements are catching up.
- Quality Collaboration — this module provides collaboration mechanisms by which the customer is able to collaborate with suppliers for Deviation Management for Quality Assurance. In addition to deviation management, this module also provides connectivity to quality systems where quality acceptance signals can be used to make decisions with regards to the execution of other procurement processes such as shipment confirmation or payment of invoices.
- Inventory Management — this includes inventory visibility across the supply chain through modules such as Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) or the Depot module which provides inventory visibility at warehouses managed by third party logistic outfits, ultimately providingthe ability to manage inventory. This is a particularly high-value function for firms that operate through channels. Often, inventory status across the chain is not in sync, leading to missed revenue opportunities that could have been filled with existing stock; instead, cash is tied-up in extra inventory to stock the channel. If organizations have inventory visibility, they can operate in a leaner mode.
- Shipment Tracking and Visibility — this includes the drop ship process, track and trace, and shipment confirmation. Here again, the linkage between the procurement and transportation processes is novel and important:
- The supplier informs the customer of the contents of a staged shipment via ASN and waits for approval to ship via Ship Confirmation. This prevents incorrect shipments. Suppliers can also keep the compliance information up to date to ensure acceptance of the shipment at the customer site.
- Track and trace. Once shipped, the customer can track when shipments are scheduled and shipped, and then track them through the transportation process.
- TAKE also announced serialization capabilities that add to their current ability to track batch/lot, as well as orders from suppliers to manufacturers, then to packaging/distribution and off to customers. Today, many manufacturers do serialize their products. And this is a growing requirement for the many Life Sciences customers that TAKE has.
- Using standards-based data and approaches, TAKE customers can use EPCIS, 2D bar-coding, standard bar-coding and labeling to synchronize with their operating and EDI systems.
- Accounts Payable Collaboration — this is a pretty interesting development, since very few solutions provide complete communications across the three areas of Procurement, Transportation and Payables to complete the swing: from ordering and procurement to shipment accuracy, delivery confirmation and traceability, and signaling Accounts Payable the correct information for accurate and timely supplier payment.
We spoke with many end users at the Converge conference who consider this seamless integration extremely important, providing big benefits such as increased working capital, inventory reductions, improved order accuracy, thereby reducing charge-backs and DSOs (days sales outstanding).
And here is an important point. Often the so-called collaboration solutions in the market are good at the B2B portion, but don’t provide the enterprise cross-functional component to create a seamless end-to-end within each enterprise. Addressing the latter issue allows each enterprise to ensure that they have compliance, data, transactions and proper reporting within each function and with the trading partners.
As companies adopt more and more cloud applications, users will still and increasingly need collaboration platforms to ensure that complex interactions are successfully supported. TAKE clearly has this universe in their sights, creating a vision and solutions that can support their global customer base for the future.
1 See TAKE’s Gemini Series® technology — Return to article text above
2 You can read about what Baker Hughes is doing here. — Return to article text above
3 Although development continues here, since operational mobile in the supply chain is still the most adopted mobile application for business. Read about mobile trends here. — Return to article text above
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