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/

EDI & Vendor Partnerships and Relationships – Take 2

Just recently, I had responded to a post over on the EDI-L Yahoo! group, and this set off a “chain-reaction” e-mail chain between our esteemed “admin” John Burmeister and Myself about collaboration… of course, we were talking about the EDITalk blog-site and a book deal – co-authored by him and I… Mind you, that’s just “pie-in-the-sky” kind of thinking, but it got Me thinking more about COLLABORATION and what it can mean to our EDI partnerships.

It probably should be mentioned that our admin and I share a trading partner relationship. He’s the EDI guy over at one of the vendors that we buy from. We also, obviously, share the EDI-L Yahoo! group, as well. When we discussed collaborating on the book (HA!), we bandied about a few titles – including “EDI DONE RIGHT! A Perspective From a Vendor and a Buyer“… Of course, I also likened it to the reputed “Rap Wars” between the East and West Coasts – and I was thinking about how we both use the same basic EDI formats and standards and data, but to different results…

Late in 2007, I went to the Inovis Roadshow Training event when it swung through Southern California. Again, as I am an Inovis user and customer, I found it to be a very helpful conference/seminar to attend. One of the things that made it great, for Me, anyway, was to be in some of the same training sessions and groups with some of My trading partners that also use Inovis products. One of the trainers likened Me to the “800 pound gorilla in the room”, as, in most cases in the EDI world, it is the buyer – the hub – that dictates what EDI documents will be used and what segments and elements and data is required to be there, what data is optional and what data we will not accept nor send.

Having Me, the 800 pound gorilla, helped with those that were there that are suppliers – either Mine or somebody else’s – gain some insight into “WHY” we send and require what we do on the documents we trade. And being able to discuss some of the issues that we have with the data we trade with each other helped us to understand a little better the why we do what we do. It’s not just because I thought the segment looked cool. There’s actually a reason for that MSG segment or that ISS segment.

Another aspect of collaboration that is kind of front-and-center for Me is a data collaboration with many of our vendors. Often times, it is beneficial for a supplier to receive some sales and stock and order level information about the products we buy, have bought and are planning on buying from them, so that they, in turn, can be sure to have the products on-hand for our orders, or at least have the ingredients – the stuff, if you will – to make the products we’re going to be ordering in time for our orders.

In this regard, there are a number of SAAS solutions out there – from big and small providers – to fill that need. We’re looking at one and working with one of them to create that data flow to provide the history of the item(s) we buy from them, our sales history and trends and allow them to possibly forecast what we’re going to be buying in the future, so that they can better plan their own levels of stock – those ingredients – from their own suppliers. This will help them to better serve our needs, which, in turn, will help us better serve our customer’s needs – the general public.

Nike (or Reebok or Adidas or UnderArmour or _________) will be able to look at the sales and inventory history for their products we carry and sell and better be prepared to fulfill our orders. Or maybe they can see that SOC (Some Other Company) is selling that same product in the same area and is just kicking our butt and maybe help us to rethink the way we do things. Maybe we’ve got too many SMALL sizes in an area that is rife with MEDIUM and LARGE sized folks. And our SMALL folks are unable to find anything besides MEDIUM and LARGE in their stores. Of course, our own buying group will be able to look at this same data and figure that out too, except for the data of how our competition is doing it.

Collaboration is an important thing in our lives – professional and personal – and works hand-in-hand with the concept I’ve covered before – about partnerships and relationships – and allows us all to prosper and grow our business. By sharing needed information, we can better help those that help us to actually help us. They can be better helped by those that help them, as well.

Wow, that was a nifty bit of alliteration, eh?

But, let’s take that collaboration thought to another level. Over on that Inovis blog, they also posted about No Supplier Left Behind and how something called MMOG/LE (read their blog!) is being used in the Automotive Industry to try and streamline the automakers processes – so that maybe it will help them with some of the issues that they’ve been facing of late. It’s hoped, at least from what I read, that this program (MMOG/LE) will help to cut costs and automate a lot of that effort between the automaker and their supplier. I’d commented about how, back in the late 80s, Chrysler had worked with some of their suppliers to create the “America” car program. It was applied to 2 different car lines – The Omni and Horizon compacts and the Aries and Reliant mid-size – over at Dodge and Plymouth. It was a program to work with suppliers to cut the costs of many of the parts used in building those cars, and also by Chrysler limited the options available on those cars, thereby eliminating the need for some parts that may have been slow moving options, anyway. The cars came equipped decently at a great price and had only a few option groups available.

This concept – this collaboration between Chrysler and their suppliers – created a program that worked pretty well for the manufacturer, as well as for the dealers and the final consumer of the car. It also helped the suppliers of the parts, in that maybe that seat fabric that they supplied now only had to come in 2 colors, instead of 6.

There are dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of ways that collaboration can be used in the world of EDI and in our lives in general. Think of the different documents that could be traded between EDI partners – the 846 Inventory Inquiry/Advice or the 852 Product Activity Data both come to mind – that could allow vendors and buyers to better understand the products they have on hand 0r need. The products that they have too much of or not enough of. Think of the concepts of using a 3rd party provider (Edifice and AfterBot come to mind) that allows a supplier/vendor to see the product history – taken in many cases directly from a retailer’s POS data – and see how well those widgets are selling and what colors are selling better in what stores.

Collaboration is yet another tool that we can use to enhance our Trading Partner Relationships, as well as our business relationships, to better serve our own needs and our own customers. And isn’t that one of the primary goals of EDI?

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