Scoring Logistics Points

Scoring Logistics Points

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

As director of transportation, Chuck Irwin helped consumer goods giant Unilever redesign its distribution network and save millions of dollars in transportation costs. Now he''s starting his own business to help other shippers do the same.

Irwin, who left Unilever last November, is launching e4score, an Internet-based service that he says will help shippers, carriers and consignees collaborate on core logistics processes. Collaboration is not a new idea, but as a former transportation director Irwin brings a unique perspective to the effort, as well as experience in purchasing, finance and technology gained over two decades at Unilever.

"The waste in physical distribution is horrendous," said Irwin. "What can I do is help companies work better together to eliminate that waste."

Starting in August, he plans to offer an online "supply community" at www. where shippers, truckers and consignees may share data about facilities, schedule dock appointments, benchmark their performance and reward each other through incentives.

The goal is to encourage the exchange of data among business partners so they can improve transportation processes and drive down costs, and that boils down to a concrete problem: determining the best way for truckers, shippers and consignees to schedule pickups and deliveries.

"Appointment making is at the heart of e4score," said Irwin. "It''s what will create a huge database that will drive everything else." He describes e4score as a pyramid, with day-to-day scheduling transactions shoring up its base and enabling the gainsharing incentive programs at its pinnacle.

"It will be a tool that business partners can use to make sure the performance failures that cost the industry the most get the attention they need," Irwin said. "Right now it''s the squeaky wheel that gets the attention, and that might not be the problem that costs the industry the most money."

Users will be charged an annual membership fee of $100 and be charged for certain transactions. Those transaction-based fees have yet to be determined, but they will be based on volume, he said.

Irwin spent more than 20 years at Unilever, a $47 billion consumer products manufacturer, starting in research and development and moving to finance and purchasing before taking on logistics in 2000.

At that time, Unilever was struggling with the legacy of its formation from the merger of Lever Brothers, Chesebrough-Ponds and Helene Curtis. Each company had its own distribution centers, carriers and transportation systems and protocols.

Unilever embarked on a four-year reorganization of its businesses into six regional units, cutting its brands to 400 from a high of 1,600. In logistics terms, that meant consolidating distribution centers and devising regional strategies based on five new multi-brand DCs; simplifying ordering and fulfillment so customers would receive one delivery on one truck; replacing or integrating software for warehousing, order management and planning; and cutting its carrier base from more than 100 to about 20 trucking companies.

Irwin led the transportation effort at Unilever''s Health and Personal Care division, a $5.5 billion segment of the company that handles soaps, detergents and other nonfood products. "I was there for three years and in that time," he said, "we developed an absolute appreciation for the importance of process rigor and roles and systematic data management."

"One of the first things a transportation specialist said to me was, ''It takes me ten minutes to make a decision, but three weeks to gather the data I need to make that decision.'' That comment stuck with me like nothing else," Irwin said. "There''s so much data that a transportation department has to manage, you need to get everything needed to make a decision at your fingertips."

However, "there were no tools out there," he said. That led to the creation of the Transportation Business Center, a system that helped Unilever manage its truckload carriers.

Unilever hired Tigris Consulting to help develop the system, in some ways became a prototype for e4score, Irwin said. "The TBC was a one-on-many information system that had no transactional capabilities. As a many-on-many system that quickly gets into transactions, e4score goes to the next level of complexity."

Irwin''s job was eliminated last year when Unilever decided to combine warehousing, transportation and deployment into one distribution department. Irwin and his wife Karen created a new company, iGit enterprises, Guilford, Conn., and partnered with Tigris Consulting, now Verticalnet, and Digital-Resolution to develop e4score.

That put him in a market where companies such as Nistevo and Transplace are trying to use the link of data and communications possible through the Internet to align capacity and demand and generate cost-saving efficiencies for shippers and carriers alike.

But Irwin says will differ from other virtual marketplaces or private business-to-business exchanges. For one, the site won''t be engaged in load-matching, nor will it sell logistics or transportation services. "I didn''t see any value in trying to offer any of those tools," Irwin said. "The window of opportunity is with appointment making. It''s an unmet need in the industry."

He also says e4score will be neutral. "The solutions out there are all ''centric'' in one way or the other, be it shipper-centric or carrier-centric," he said.

"At Unilever I learned what was really broken and where there were missed opportunities for customers and suppliers to work better together, not just from the shipper perspective but for the industry as a whole."