Tim, the Tool Man says – “MORE POWER!”

If you were alive and watching TV through the 90s, you probably saw – or at least heard of – ABC’s long running “Home Improvement” – starring Tim Allen – and giving a start to Pamela Anderson (Lee) – whose career nearly EVERYBODY should know.  It was a show about “Tim ‘the tool man’ Taylor” and his family.  Tim was the “host” of a TV Show called “TOOL TIME” – a fictitious handyman show that was sponsored by the equally fictitious Binford Tools.

But one of the things that Tim was ALWAYS looking for was “MORE POWER!” from his tools – and just about everything else in his life.  Tim’s tinkering with tools would often lead to disastrous results – with an over-powered tool that did far more than it should and was usually pretty destructive.

The other day, I wrote a bit about the power of DETAILS in our EDI world.  But this morning, I was reminded that – even with all the details in the world – we’re nothing without the tools to use them.  And how our actions and all the details we can monitor and provide, how they’re for nothing if the users don’t use the tools we provide them.

This concept of TOOLS and how we should use them was pushed to the forefront of My head this morning, on My drive in to work.  Here in California, we have a newly enacted law that requires the use of “hands free” devices for your cell phone when you’re driving.  Doesn’t matter if you use the phone’s built-in speakerphone abilities (if applicable), a wired headset that plugs in or one of the wonderful Bluetooth devices – whether an ear piece, a clip-on speaker or the one installed in your car (if you’ve got it).  I know that a lot of the “high-end” car companies offer this option in their models.  Lexus, Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW and more have a Bluetooth “kit” built into many of their cars.

Well, this morning, driving on I-10, making My way from Rancho Mirage (home) to Riverside (work) – about a 50 mile trip – I was being passed by a recent generation Lexus LS – the top of the line sedan.  After the Lexus passed Me, I noticed that she started slowing down and … jiggling … a bit in her lane.  When I pulled alongside (she’d slowed by about 5 to 10 MPH), I could see that she was doing something with her arms – moving them around quickly.  Then, a half-second later, into her hand comes her cell phone.

Now, we all know that cell phones are tools – and can be very good tools; very useful when used properly and to our benefit.  Of course, like a 3 year old with a hammer, sometimes tools are abused – like when some … youthful … person is texting messages to their pals – all the while driving down the road at some speed and (obviously) not paying attention to the details of driving. 

But here’s a great instance of a wonderful tool that’s not being used.  The Bluetooth (or other hands-free device).  If that driver in the Lexus had used the device she’s got – and chances are, she’s got SOMETHING to use her phone hands-free – she wouldn’t have had to fish around in her purse or a pocket or wherever her phone was and her attention to the details of her driving wouldn’t have suffered.  She wouldn’t have nearly swerved into My lane.

There are a lot of other tools we can use in our EDI daily lives, too.  And there are great tools we can provide to our users – those accounting clerks and supervisors, those buyers, those warehouse receivers, and all the others.  We can provide them with EDI Invoices, EDI Purchase Orders, EDI Shipment Notices.  We can provide them with records and forms and documents and other forms of data that can be used by them to help make their jobs just a little easier…

We have other tools in the shed that can be used to great benefits by us, our users and even our trading partners, vendors and suppliers.  We can offer solutions for nearly any question or problem – from changing a PO automatically in the system (the 860 in X12-world), provide activity/sales information (the 852), and more.  All of these tools can help us – and our users – to make work easier, better, and – very importantly – more accurate and with less errors.

We can use the 832 – Vendor Catalog – or one of the outsourced catalog website (Inovis and SPS Commerce both have them) to download and – even – automatically update our product management system with the latest and greatest information from our vendors and suppliers – size runs, color availability, UPCs, style numbers and more.  We can keep our systems up to date with product information and changes.

Another example is that it’s often important for a retailer to provide some kind of reporting to their suppliers and vendors as to how a certain product or line is doing in their stores.  These days, it’s become even more important for a buyer and a seller to work more closely together and “fine tune” the product mix in the stores and carried on the shelves and stored in the warehouse.  Retailers are having to pay more attention to their bottom line and the big picture and keep inventories to a more controlled size so they’re not saddled with left-overs come the end of a selling season.

In house, we have a reporting system (called The Eye) that can help our buyers look at trends and see how products are doing, based on sales history and comparisons of different sales periods – whether weekly, monthly, yearly or for a specific advertised sale.  However, because of the large number of products we carry – over 10000 active SKUs and many thousands more that may no longer be carried and in stock – and the large number of stores – over 400 in 10 states – tracking all of that history creates some VERY large databases for The Eye to keep track of.  So we limit some of the levels of detail available to be viewed – we don’t track each item, for example, to the store level, but keep track of the classes.  Or at the Style level of merchandise, we only can see how well that style is doing over the entire chain.

Kind of limited tools.  These tools need “MORE POWER!”

Additionally, our buyers may want to work more closely with a vendor rep on some products or lines and need to provide them with the information on how Widget X is doing in our chain and what we can do to maximize sales and limit overstock levels and all the rest.  And there are many ways that we can get that information – tools we can use – to share that with our suppliers.

If we want to do just the EDI route, we can use the 852 Product Activity document.  By creating this document and trading it with our suppliers, we can provide them with a snapshot of how well the product(s) are doing in our stores and provide them with the appropriate data that they need – and data that we can see, too – so that we can come to a better understanding of our needs and how they can help us to meet those needs.

We could also just send paper reports – or e-mails – to the rep and do it that way, as well.

There are also a number of 3rd party sources that we can use to give access to that data.  Tools that we can provide to our suppliers and that we can use with them to better understand how well a product is doing.

We recently started using Edifice as a 3rd party provider for POS Activity data reporting to our vendor community.  Every week, we compile reports on how well products are selling – or not! – in our stores and the stock levels we have and send the information – via FTP – to Edifice.  They then work with that data and create reporting that our vendors and suppliers can access (if they subscribe) to view that very same information.  Additionally, we can view that same reporting that they’re viewing, so that our buyer and the company rep can be looking at the exact same numbers and data.  They can be comparing apples to apples instead of grapes.

It’s a great tool.  And it’s got “MORE POWER” than our in-house system because Edifice can give the detail down to the size and color – the individual item or SKU – and also down to EACH store in our chain.  And the reporting compares this year to last year, and can also compare seasons and months and a lot of other points of interest.

Right now, about 2 dozen of our suppliers are subscribed to this reporting from Edifice.  And our buying department can see that exact same data.  But here’s where it all falls down – like a house of cards in a strong breeze.

Remember My tale about the Lexus driver and how she didn’t use a great tool – her Bluetooth (or similar)…?  Well, it was a case of not using a tool that can make life better.  Well, the same can hold true for this kind of Activity Data reporting – it’s a great tool – but only if the buyer – and the supplier – can open up that tool box and pull it out!  And, of course, they have to use that tool, too.

That’s really something we all can relate to in the world of EDI.  As I’d mentioned earlier, we have some great tools in our shed that we can provide to our users.  We’ve got some great ways of trading data back and forth with our vendors and suppliers – some great tools – but it’s getting our users to actually use those tools that will suddenly reap the benefit and the rewards from that hard work.

MORE POWER, indeed.

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