Enhanced supply chain performance

The on demand B2B Network from Sterling Commerce makes it easier for companies to securely integrate trading processes and enhance automation.

Processes which have traditionally been manual, fraught with complexity due to multiple standards and data formats, and provided for low visibility in tracking supply chain activity end-to-end, now have the potential to be far more functional.

In the past, many retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and third-party logistics firms have automated portions of their core purchase-to-pay and order-to-cash processes with their B2B communities and supply chains.

However, the greatest opportunity for additional cost savings and efficiency lies in electronically integrating trading partners that still transact business via phone, fax, email, and postal mail.

In existence for over 30 years, Sterling Commerce, an AT&T subsidiary which has recently been named among the top 100 largest software companies on Software Magazine’s annual listing, aims to eliminate all paper-based transactions. The company has 19,000 customers and more than 90 global network interconnections already in operation.

“Based on this solid platform, we have the opportunity to say ‘what else can we do for you as customers?’,” said Sterling Commerce managing director for Australia and NZ, Michael Vulcan.

Having gone through two major acquisitions in the past five years (Yantra Corporation in 2005, and Comergent in 2007), Sterling Commerce focuses on supply chain executions and supply chain management, warehousing, and multi-channel customer fulfilment.

“Once the order is placed, we manage that order through the supply chain, all the way from sourcing to warehousing, and giving visibility to customers on what’s actually happening. Through those acquisitions we are able to focus on everything from capturing the order through to the management and fulfilment of that order,” Vulcan explained.

Ought to auto, mate

There are plenty of opportunities when it comes to auto-capture and auto-management. While setting up a basic website is becoming increasingly easy, the question is whether that website is helping the business to drive revenue.

“Anyone can put up a website, but this is talking about an e-commerce site that can take an order and actually do something with it. You keep hearing stories of people having websites, but printing off orders from those websites, manually taking those order pages and re-keying them into a system. This is not that. This is an integrated system that allows an order to flow through from the front end, to the back end, in a smooth and consistently efficient manner,” said Vulcan.

“We’re allowing not only for greater efficiency but also reducing the carbon footprint, through the reduction in the amount of paper used, the number of catalogues sent out, the collection of those catalogues, and so on.

“Multi-channel auto-capture is an area which is becoming very interesting to manufacturers. If a customer can actually look on a website, at an entire range of products, through that internet channel, or through a call centre, then that goes a long way toward those manufacturers being able to do their job better, to service their customers better.”

Staying ahead

With Coles’ recent decision to reduce the number of their suppliers, being able to provide that extra level of efficiency becomes increasingly necessary.

According to Vulcan, “in modern retailers it’s no longer about putting stuff on shelves – anyone can do that – it’s about putting that stuff out there quicker, and with better returns. Otherwise you go out of business.

If your systems are more user-friendly, and you have the ability to help manage everything from promotions to availability, to give increased visibility for stock and goods, to allow for an order to be tracked through its entire route – seeing whether it’s been delayed, being able to flag that delay, to send an email to someone to let them know – all done automatically, then that creates a value-added network.

“Instead of just moving an item, you’re tracking it proactively, and being in constant control of its information flow. Instead of a shipment of yoghurt being delayed, and the retailer being left with empty storage space, you’re able to foresee that problem and correct it, whether by sending orders through another warehouse, or simply by pre-warning that retailer and thereby maintaining customer relations.”

Having an upper hand is not always about the quality of the actual product – it’s about the services that go along with it. For example, the ability to track where a particular shipment of lettuces is – whether it’s in a truck, or on the road – could mean all the difference. According to Vulcan, typical systems do not know how to find that information, because goods are not inside a warehouse or inside a store, and are therefore outside the realm of their control.

With Sterling Commerce’s technology those products can be tracked anywhere. “Most people don’t have that level of detail,” said Vulcan. “But if you want to forecast and plan properly to make sure that those items are on the shelf when your consumer walks into that supermarket, then you need to have that level of detail. If you’re not wasting, over-ordering, over-stocking, or under-stocking, that obviously saves a lot of money for the company.

“The bottom line is that there’s ways to do business that are better than what’s currently happening in the market. There’s more efficient ways to use those resources than to have people driving in trucks, to one client at a time.

“It’s about looking outside the square at what you’re currently doing. Can you use technology channels to your benefit? And if you can, can you not only reduce costs, but also your carbon footprint? At the same time, can you make better use of the available networks? Can you increase your supply chain visibility to create a better understanding between your business and your customers? Can you correctly monitor and deliver better alerts and more timely deliveries?

“These are the areas that will make the big difference in the Australian food and beverage manufacturing landscape in the coming of years,” concluded Vulcan.

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