More and more logistics managers are looking to sophisticated Web-based technology to help them with their day-to-day management and longer-term logistics strategy. A supply chain with increased visibility is a more efficient one. It’s also a more environmentally friendly enterprise, because you’re able to avoid last-minute air or expedited truck shipments because you know what’s in your supply pipeline, reducing fuel consumption and emissions, as well as saving money. But the sheer volume of choices out there in the world of information technology makes diving in an intimidating prospect. When looking to apply IT to address some of the challenges of managing a global supply chain, here are 10 things to consider:
1. Remember, the global supply chain is an inter-company world.
You will need a technology service that is capable of connecting your system to the systems of these supply-chain partners. That way, you can capture truly useful data essential to the ongoing success of your project.
2. Consider on-demand technology, where you only pay for what you use.
Apart from cost structure, the advantages of on-demand mean you can scale your data-management system to outside the four walls of the company. The cost, time and risk associated with building this yourself usually would be prohibitive. On-demand platforms are designed specifically to connect multiple, different systems.
3. Think data first, applications second.
Without good, standardized data, even the best software won't work. Start with getting the infrastructure and processes in place to collect supply-chain information first. This is the biggest challenge companies face.
4. Look at shared platforms.
These are data-exchange platforms that are already built, and in use by major importers and exporters today. Getting started is faster and more cost effective because many of the connections, data maps and applications are already in place and fully available to you.
5. Rent, don’t buy.
By paying for a solution as you go, based on the services you use, you minimize the upfront risk and cost. If the solution fails to deliver as advertised, you can simply stop paying for the service and go to Plan B. This model also puts responsibility on the technology vendor to deliver a working product (or the vendor doesn’t get paid).
6. Walk before you run.
Roll the solution out in clearly defined phases, tied directly to value/return on investment. The biggest mistake a company can make is spending years implementing a huge solution and turning it on all at once.
7. Make sure the solution has value potential and options for partners.
If you require partners to implement the technology, or pay, or change their processes, they will resist and slow you down. Partners want to support you but each will approach it differently. Some will want to fully integrate their systems to support the project, others will prefer to use Web forms and/or e-mail. They must have a choice.
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Partners, internal groups and senior management must be kept up to date on a proactive basis about any project that covers something as big as the supply chain. In the absence of communication, people will reach their own (likely wrong) conclusions about the project.
9. Measure value before during and after each phase of the project.
In order to get buy in, build a value-based business case. Roll the project out to meet defined goals of that business case. Measure the value against the plan and track it over time.
10. Talk to peers, and look for documented success before making a technology decision.
Technology companies are notorious for marketing very compelling stories. But only real customers who are willing to publicly endorse technology show true success. Look for vendors with many customers doing press releases, publishing case studies, speaking about the project/vendor, and who are willing to talk to you as a prospective buyer.