Going Back In Time

Jim Croce sang once about “… if I could save time in a bottle…” – and I just wonder where time goes…  Yes, it’s been a LONG time since you’ve seen the crazed writings I create on these pages. 

Has the silence been golden?

Of have you been secretly pining away for more wit and wisdom from the one and only; is it writings from this one that you have been yearning for…?  Or do you really just not care one way or the other and you’re just about to go read something else…?  I guess I’d better get to the topic, huh?

I know its ground I’ve covered before, but it’s still a fertile field to … darn, what’s a good word for plow that starts with an “F”…?  How about farm…?  It’s still a fertile field to farm…  There.  I got some alliteration in.

But I’m rambling on (again?) about changes and not doing things the “new” way because it’s too difficult.  Or it requires us to think of a different way of doing things that maybe – just maybe – we don’t want to think about.  It’s about adapting to change and dealing with the change that comes along as newer (and better?) ways of doing things come along.

OK… since the last time we talked, the economy has tanked and slid way down the scale… Retail sales are way off from just a few years ago and some retailers have gone the way of the Eagle and the Plymouth – they’re gone and not forgotten, a lingering memory of their products still firmly entrenched in the minds of many.

By the way – the retailer I work for is not doing horribly bad in this economy sink… Mind you, our sales aren’t growing – much – but we were only down about 4% from last year…  Some days we’re up, some days we’re down, but we’re certainly not out of the game…  Truly, if we can last out this recession, we’ll be doing pretty well.

There’s this one vendor of ours that we buy a LOT of stuff from.  And I’m not just talking about the quantities we buy from them, but even across the product lines.  We have thousands of SKUs that we buy from this vendor.  And they’re shipped directly to the stores.  We use a module within our merchandising system that can track sales and generate POs based upon last year’s sales trends.  From that data, we can create POs – one for every store – that are pretty accurate.

“How does this pertain to EDI?” you’re probably asking.  And I’ll tell you.

Each of those orders we’d generate for each of the stores was sent via EDI to the vendor, who would then fill each and every of those orders and ship the products (generating an ASN for each) and then even (now) invoice us for each of those orders.  On a monthly basis, that could save the “manual” creation of about 400 Purchase Orders.

Good stuff, eh?

But now, it seems, we’re no longer doing that.  Instead, that vendor is going into each and every one of our stores and seeing what’s needed on the shelf and stocking those shelves and then sending us a list of the items they put on the shelves and we then generate the PO (after the fact) and send the vendor the PO number (but not the actual PO) so that they could update their system (manually) with the PO number so that they could then process the invoice.

All the wonders of our working system – with minimal manual intervention – are now buried and – poof, they’re gone.

We’ve gone from that super economical, safe and efficiently powerful car of the current decade and we’re driving some 50’s era heap without even the comforts of a radio or air conditioning, let alone all those safety advances of the last 50 years…

And why?

That’s what I’m spending a lot of time today trying to figure out…  Why did we abandon this system that was working well for a number of years and go back in time to a manual process that lends itself too well to errors, mistakes and “oops” events?

Isn’t that one of the key benefits we’ve all used to push EDI into our companies and grow our EDI programs by adding new documents and vendors to the system…?  One of the key goals of processing orders via EDI has been that it helps to eliminate much of the possibility of wrongly keyed data…  If there’s an error, we know it’s probably going to be before the document was sent via EDI.  It was keyed in the beginning and then was never caught and flowed through the process from start to finish.

*sigh.  It’s just so … negative … and so disheartening to the way I’ve been thinking and working over the past few years.  To see all those positive changes being swept away and all of these negatives taking their place.  It’s like watching the past 8 years of the Bush Presidency all over again, but on a smaller scale.

OK, that was a cheap shot across political lines – but it can be viewed as a valid analogy.  But I’ll let it slide and not really give you the details of the way I’m thinking.

But, again, here we are, creating orders and getting errors in return.  Wrong PO numbers, wrong store number entries, wrong items sent and other errors.  And who’s to blame; is it our fault or the fault of the vendor?  Probably a bit of both; but I’m the retailer, so I’ll blame them.

I’m still trying to figure out from the buying department why they’ve changed their processes…  But I don’t want to sound like some whiner…  So I’m taking “other” routes – using different people in different departments – to do that dirty work.  I’d like the guy that’s now taken over that automatic process we were doing before to “suggest” the orders and create the POs from; I’m asking him to find out why they’ve stopped with the process.

And I want to know why we’re not sending those orders via EDI anymore.  I mean, if it’s because the vendor would end up “doubling” the order, since they’d already supplied it to the store, then it’s really on the vendor to make the changes in their system – to get the list of EDI POs and find that they already exist in their system and change those existing orders to use the POs we’ve sent over via EDI.

I mean, somebody is already taking those existing orders and modifying them to add the PO number in their system so that they can send us the ASN and the Invoice via EDI.  So why would it be difficult for them to take the EDI generated orders and NOT ship them and populate some table or file in their system, generate a report from that data and then manually process those changes…?  Or even handle it through a program that would go and search that file that they populate from our EDI data for a “key” bit of information – such as the store number – and then change their order to add the PO number.

Of course, there’s another way that we could do this, too.  We COULD receive an EDI document – like the 852 – and process it into an order that is then turned around as the 850 back to the vendor.  I mean, that’s what we’re doing manually as it is – we’re taking their suggested stock levels and numbers and creating a PO off of a file (usually an excel spreadsheet) they send us.  What’s the difference if it’s sent as and 852 via EDI or sent as a flat file as an e-mail attachment?

The times, they are a-changing and we’re not going “Back To The Future” – but we’re going back in time, to the land that time forgot.

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here:
http://editalk.com/contributors/

Holiday EDI Volume

Author: Joey Adami
EDI OPTIONS, Inc.
55 Herricks Rd
Garden City Park, NY 11404

After spending some time with our client support technicians, it seems that
in the rush of the holiday season, our clients not only face shorter

deadlines and shipping volume but unique EDI issues as well.At holiday time, clients ship a much higher volume of goods, which can
complicate every aspect of shipping logistics. From packing a much higher
number of boxes and labeling to creating multiple invoices for stores or
distribution centers. Holiday logistics can become exponentially more
complex.

“During the holiday season many issues for support are easily fixed with
features that are already built into their EDI systems”-Tech Support

With a variety of EDI capabilities & customization, each client has the
ability to attain an automated EDI operation. Within software systems, there
are tools for everyday business and tools that might only be used during
this season when business traffic is high.

For example clients found themselves learning how to easily edit or even
delete items off an ASN.  Others discovered new reports to track
invoices, ASNs or any transaction inbound and outbound that was sent or
received from any given time frame even though these activities were easily
performed manually during periods of low activity they would be impossible
to perform during the holiday season without high level tools.

For business, especially in the wake of current economic challenges, it is
imperative to manage every order to insure compete and timely fulfillment.
The strength of an EDI system must mimic these goals allowing your EDI
operation to be, productive & robust.

An EDI solution that is flexible & powerful is one part of managing holiday
volume. Combine that power with knowledgeable staff, backed up by on call
support & the result is a solution with all of the necessary tools to tackle
a tough holiday season!


edi is so scary!!! BOO!

It was a dark and stormy night…  The wind howled through the skeletal branches of the trees…  ghosts, goblins and other monsters scampered along the street…  the full moon shone brightly, yet all the streets seemed dim and darkened and you were wary about what might bump into you in the night…

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  OK, so it’s warm, a bit breezy and mostly sunny.  At least it is in most of Southern California.  But it seemed just wrong to start off a blog on Halloween with something so … so … cheerful.

I was thinking, on this warm and sunny October day – that Halloween is the PERFECT version of the supply chain.  Honestly, think about it…  And think about how many different supply chains may be involved…!

But the basic one – “TRICK OR TREAT” – the art of hitting up the neighborhood – is a perfect example of a simple – yet WILDLY effective – supply chain.

The breakdown:

*             you put on some clothes (a costume),

*             you walk down the street,

*             you ring a doorbell and yell “TRICK OR TREAT!” ,

*             and the person gives you some candy (or other great treat)…!

How much simpler and easier is that supply chain?!?  Nothing to do but get dressed up on some costume – whether a simple sheet with some eye-holes – boo!  I’m a ghost! – or something more … frightening – like a vampire, or a witch – or even more elaborate – donning a fully body suit of hair and becoming a werewolf.  Simple.  Easy.  Effective.

Then, of course, there are a number of other supply chains involved, as well.  There’s the candy that you get from each house – somebody had to buy that at some store…  And that store had to buy it from some candy maker.  And they had to buy the ingredients to make the wonderful confection from someplace.  There’s the costume you wear – that store had to buy it…  and the rest is just like the above.

But Halloween is a perfect example of what a supply chain SHOULD be – simple – easy – effective.  Not a lot of fuss and bother to contend with.  Sure, you can get elaborately fancy and create a foam-rubber body suit that turns you into Godzilla (or some other monster) or you can do the easy simple “sheet-over-the-head” trick and be a ghost.  You can make your own “home grown” solution – pulling parts and bits from the closets and drawers – or you can buy the cheap, moderate or expensive solution from the dealer down the road.

So, thinking about it that way – do you see the similarities between Halloween Trick-or-treating and your supply chain…?  Which did you choose – simple or … elaborate?

But, unlike Halloween, the supply chain needs to be in place and working every single day.  Halloween just comes once a year.  But, Halloween can also have some … difficulties … in that supply chain.  There’s the house without candy… or where they just ran out…  Or there’s the “healthy house” that hands out toothbrushes or boxes of raisins (oh, yeah, THEY’RE really popular!)…  There’s your problems with the supply chain – out of stock of what you’re ordering – or not giving you the product you really want and order. 

Then there are the … wardrobe malfunctions (thank you Janet and Justin!) … that puts an end to your night’s joys of candy and treats.  And those can also manifest themselves in your supply chain – maybe your communications fail… or your translation adds odd-ball characters… or the data is … corrupted…  There are a number of ways where your supply chain can malfunction and all … hell … breaks loose.

So, simple or complex; smooth and easy or fraught with horror, peril and malfunctions; Halloween may just be the best example of the supply chain outside of the supply chain.

So, to all you goblins, ghouls, bats and witches, I wish you a safe – insane – Halloween.

Oh, yeah.  “Unpleasant dreams!” (many thanks to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for that!)

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here:
http://editalk.com/contributors/

Unemployed? Don’t move here…

I just read this article – well – a pair of articles – over on MSN – about the 25 WORST cities for finding a job and the 25 BEST cities for finding a job.  Truly interesting stuff; however the methods used to create the article are – at best – flawed.  The flaw is that they only use the unemployment rates, as compiled and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – a federal agency that is responsible for researching and compiling labor economics and statistics…

The list of the bad cities includes quite a few cities located in California.  But if you were to look at the list – and if you’re not from California – you’ve probably NEVER heard of many (if ANY) of those cities.  Here’s the list:

1.    El Centro, Calif.       
2.    Yuma, Ariz.               
3.    Flint, Mich.               
4.    Merced, Calif.
5.    Yuba City, Calif.      
6.    Modesto, Calif.      
7.    Visalia, Calif.            
8.    Monroe, Mich.
9.    Palm Coast, Fla.      
10.  Stockton, Calif.         
11.  Fresno, Calif.             
12.  Bakersfield, Calif.
13.  Hanford, Calif.          
14.  Redding, Calif.          
15.  Muskegon, Mich.    
16.  Jackson, Mich.
17.  Rocky Mount, N.C.
18.  Saginaw, Mich.         
19.  Madera, Calif.           
20.  Detroit
21.  Elkhart, Ind.               
22.  Sebastian, Fla.          
23.  Kokomo, Ind.            
24.  Rockford, Ill.
25.  Niles, Mich.

11 of them are from California.  But, of those 11 – only one is NOT located in the Central Valley area of California.  And the biggest (and almost only!) jobs in most of those cities are related to farming and agriculture.  And some of them are downright tiny cities.  And they’re surrounded by miles and miles and miles of … well … nothing. 

Most of the cities listed that are in the mid-western areas of the US – like Indiana, Michigan, Illinois – are areas that have industries tied deeply to automotive industries and – an even more beleaguered segment – RV manufacturing.

Let’s face it – political statements aside – the economy sucks all over…!

Now the 25 “good cities” many tend to be … well, mid-west centered, too.

1.   Sioux Falls, S.D.           
2.   Idaho Falls, Idaho       
3.   Rapid City, S.D.            
4.   Bismarck, N.D.
5.   Houma, La.                    
6.   Morgantown, W.Va. 
7.   Logan, Utah                  
8.   Fargo, N.D.
9.   Casper, Wyo.               
10. Billings, Mont.           
11. Lafayette, La.             
12. Ames, Iowa
13. Midland, Texas 
14. Iowa City, Iowa         
15. Lincoln, Neb.              
16. Great Falls, Mont.
17. Charlestown, W.Va.
18. Des Moines, Iowa   
19. Portsmouth, N.H.    
20. Missoula, Mont.
21. Salt Lake City              
22. Provo, Utah                
23. Sioux City, Iowa        
24. Odessa, Texas
25. Pocatello, Idaho

Sure, there are a few standouts in the North East and the South, but many of them are solidly Mid-West cities.  Of course, they’re also cities that, if you research them more, you’ll find they’re pretty stable cities with no great industrial claims.

Truly, outside of a religion, what does Salt Lake City hold a claim to – industry wise …?  And Casper, Wyoming and Billings, Montana – what’s going on there?  Besides being near major National Recreation areas, what industry calls those cities home?  And, as for Texas, Midland and Odessa are right next to each other (geographically speaking) and so the “gains” in one will be similar to the gains in the other.  But again, what’s their industrial base…?  Where are those job gains…?

But even then, the growth isn’t anything … huge.  Not anything like the high unemployment numbers for the California and Michigan cities.

But, again, the basic study – the reasons behind the articles – is flawed.  It gives a decidedly myopic view of things… And an exceptionally dire one, at that!

Why?  Well, it’s because they’re only looking at one single point of data – the unemployment rate.  That’s it.  Nothing about the industry that supports the area, the number of residents that do not work anyway (i.e. retirees, stay at home parents, whatever).  They don’t look at the kinds of jobs in the area – from flipping burgers at Burger King, Carl’s Jr. or McDonalds to legal secretaries, doctors, nurses and other types of “skilled labor”…

Take a look at St. Louis, for example.  They’ve got a lot of industries there – from auto manufacturing to hospitals to finance…  They’re all over.  But what does Ames, Iowa offer in the way of industry…?  What kind of jobs are even available in Ames…?  Do you think that there is a lot of call in Ames for an EDI manager…?  Or some other kind of IT position…?

That same flaw – the single source of data and the single point of data being used – can also be a major flaw in our EDI system and what we do with those documents.   What good is an EDI system that only processes a single document for a single department for a single trading partner…?  How does that improve your supply chain or your business…?

Opening up your focus – whether by the data you want to trade or by the “who” you want to trade with – can make your EDI world that much better.  That much more … well … impactful and worthwhile… leaving your EDI program just focused on one thing does not make it very useful information.

It’s like the articles I reference above – how valid is that information to you if you want to move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and – while there is low unemployment and some growth in their job market – there is not a job for you to take…?  If you’ve achieved your MSCSE certificate, but there are no jobs for people with your abilities and qualifications, of what value is the fact that Sioux City has low unemployment..?

Or – on the flip side – you’re moving to Bakersfield or Fresno to take care of an ailing family member – but you’ve already got a job lined up – in your field of expertise – so the high rate of unemployment doesn’t matter to you.

Job futures – and EDI – need to be … far ranging and “big picture” – taking into account a lot of smaller details.  It can’t just be focused on one little fact or figure.

There’s that big retailer – WhoM shall remain nameless  – that is always the Target of the wrath and ire of many an EDI “guy”.  Those that deal with that big retailer (or the other one) know that they seem to be “our way or the highway” kind of mentality.  Do it our way or we’re not doing business with you.  It’s a very limited eye view of EDI.  It doesn’t allow for any deviation or options.  It’s this or nothing.  It’s one sides and just one point of reference.  It’s very limiting.

Now, in some ways, that limited versatility may be good – in that there’s not a lot of “extra stuff” to worry about.  Just like the one point of reference in the jobless rates in those cities – not a lot to worry about.  There aren’t many (any?) jobs, so don’t go there.

But isn’t it better when you have more to work on than just one number; or one point of view or one way of thinking…?  Where’s the value then?

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator

Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/

got plan?

The above is with all due respect to the Milk Advisory Board and their advertising campaigns.  But, the other day, I came across this wonderful bit of news online… And I thought – wow…  Take a read…


 Bank Robber Hires Decoys on Craigslist, Fools Cops

By Caroline McCarthy, CNET News

In an elaborate robbery scheme that’s one part The Thomas Crown Affair and one part Pineapple Express, a crook robbed an armored truck outside a Bank of America branch in Monroe, Wash., by hiring decoys through Craigslist to deter authorities.

It gets better: He then escaped in a creek headed for the Skykomish River in an inner tube, and the cops are still looking for him. “A great amount of money” was taken, Monroe police said, but did not provide a dollar value.

It appears to have unfolded this way, according to a Seattle-based NBC affiliate: Around 11:00 a.m. PDT Sept. 30, the robber, wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a blue shirt, and a respirator mask went over to a guard who was overseeing the unloading of cash to the bank from the truck. He sprayed the guard with pepper spray, grabbed his bag of money, and fled the scene.

But here’s the hilarious twist. The robber had previously put out a Craigslist ad for road maintenance workers, promising wages of $28.50 per hour. Recruits were asked to wait near the Bank of America right around the time of the robbery–wearing yellow vests, safety goggles, a respirator mask, and preferably a blue shirt. At least a dozen of them showed up after responding to the Craigslist ad.

“I came across the ad that was for a prevailing wage job for $28.50 an hour,” one of the unwitting decoys, named Mike, said to the NBC station. As it turns out, they were simply placed there to confuse cops who were looking for a guy wearing a virtually identical outfit.

Authorities eventually found the getaway inner tube (a getaway inner tube!) and suspect that accomplices may have picked up the robber in a boat. According to the NBC affiliate, police hope to track him down by figuring out who posted the Craigslist ad in the first place.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark was not immediately available for comment.

Now, My thinking of “WOW!” was because of how – well – how much thought and effort this guy did in setting up this crime….  I mean, he planned his escape route, put out an ad to “hire decoys” so that he’d blend into the crowd and not be caught…  Kind of like “The Thomas Crown Affair” – the remake – in which he blends in with the crowd and nobody suspects that he’s got a multi-million dollar piece of artwork rolled up in his briefcase.  Instead, he looks like any regular art patron, stopping by on a break or between meetings…

And it’s that kind of planning – and forward thinking – that can mean the success of any project we’re considering or working on – whether of criminal intent or just something simple and easy as EDI.

“Simple and easy as EDI…?  Did he really just say that…?”

Yes.  Yes I did.

But on the planning front, how good or bad our projects turn out can easily be related to how well planned and thought out our project is.  Do we have plans for possible flaws in our plans?  Do we have back-up contingencies?  Have we thought of any possible negative impacts or issues that may occur?

Or are we just going up to the armored car and saying “stick ‘em up!” without any kind of plan or escape route….?

EDI is not something we can just do “off the cuff” without thinking and planning and follow-through.  We can’t be the Elle Woods that Professor Callahan thinks said “I think I’ll go to law school today!” (from the movie “Legally Blonde”).  We have to be the Elle Woods that actually THINKS about what we’re doing and PLANS for what we want to accomplish.  We have to but some work into it and think it through.

True, in “Legally Blonde”, Elle does change her plans – from merely trying to recapture her boyfriend – to truly learning something and becoming more than what she seems on the surface.  And while EDI may never be THAT exciting, well…  It did show, however, how Ms. Woods was able to change her plans and her goals and still have a successful outcome – even if her original plan was no longer a viable option for her.

Think about the first time your company decided to “go EDI”…  They had these grand notions of … well, doing whatever it is that they had those notions to do.  But, along the way, there have been changes and additions; problems and hurdles; solutions and outcomes; and your EDI program is where it is today.  We learned some lessons, sure.  But we had some basic and solid plans to begin with.

And it’s that planning that probably had a lot with how successful the EDI program we’re working has been.

For example, when I started with EDI with My current job, it was a small program.  We traded only 1 document (the 850 PO) and had about … 30 trading partners.  Not a huge program… Especially for a fairly large retailer.  At the time, we had more than 300 stores in 10 states… True, we’re not Wal*Mart or Target or Costco – but we’re not Mom & Pop Store, with only 1 or 2 locations in one town, either…  “OH, Spud!  I’m a chain!” (from “Steel Magnolias”)…

But now, we’ve got well over 800 trading partners; we’re processing the 850, 856 and the 810; and about 85% of all the POs we write are sent via EDI.  We send and receive a few thousand documents per month.  And we’re pretty successful at it, too.

And we got there by planning…  But also a bit by … well, having good trading partners.  Just like our bank robber (above) probably had some good accomplices that he’s splitting that bag of loot with.  People that met him at the river and took him to their hide-out…  And even the “un-witting” accomplices that answered the ad on Craigslist and showed up in the requested outfit.

Planning and forethought can really make – or break – anything we do.  And it’s also true that all of the planning in the world may not always work out as we … well … planned … but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Hmm… “I think I’ll go to law school today!”  Or, rather, “I think I’ll tackle some EDI today!”  Yeah, that’s better!

Got plan?

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/