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Modeling your Supply Chain Network

By Jennifer Liccardi

0608493Modeling a Company’s Supply Chain Network is extremely important to understand what is going on within the transportation portion of the business.  The business of today may be completely different than the business of 5 years ago.  Buying patterns, vendor/customer mix or freight volumes can change drastically over the years.

The initial step in modeling is to understand the current business.  The analysis will include monthly, weight break and Top 80% statistics.  Also, an important part of the initial analysis is a map of the origins/destinations as well as densities.    Densities help to determine the areas where a consolidation or deconsolidation is needed or if a sailing schedule can be put together.  The initial analysis gives a big insight into the supply chain and what areas need adjustments.

The next step in the supply chain process is to start modeling based on the findings above.  It is always important to start modeling the current scenario so it completely understood before adjustments are made.  There may be minor tweaks to the supply chain that won’t cause a big shock to the network.  Some of these changes may be making sure some LTL consolidation is happening, introducing multi stop consolidated truckloads or a mode change.

These solutions can be found using the optimization tool Mercury Edge in the TMS System MercuryGate.  The Mercury Edge tool also allows us to model different scenarios such as closing a facility, determining how many pool locations are optimal as well as where they should be located.

Modeling transportation should be on the top of every company’s list of To Dos.  Modeling gives a company a better understanding of their network and how potential changes will affect the transportation spend.

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Transportation Trends to Watch

By Tom French

TomFrench2It’s worth a CEO’s time to read “Transportation: The Road Ahead” in CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly.  Chris Chaplice, Director of MIT’s FreightLab, highlights the accelerating shift to cheap and abundant natural gas as a fleet fuel, noting that:

“Waste hauler Waste Management reported that 80 percent of its new truck purchases would run on natural gas”.

The author makes note of the rapid pace of software improvements in the transportation space, but there are a few disconnects between what he describes (from his vantage point at MIT) and what I hear day to day, when talking with manufacturers and 3PLs. First of all, I’m surprised at how many Enterprise and near-Enterprise scale companies are still managing transportation and inventory without the latest generation of software (or even with no software at all), though everything else has been transformed by software, from resource planning to human resources to sales.  But left unexamined in the article was how this new data-driven visibility into transportation data provides the missing leverage to reduce transportation and inventory costs, the two biggest cost centers in a company’s supply chain.

Finally, Chris writes that:

“Optimization models tend to treat the world as static, with no assumptions of variance or randomness of the input variables or conditions. This led to very rigid and fragile plans that fell apart when any disruption occurs.”

He suggests that the new generation of software can dynamically replan, but he leaves out the one element- the need for skilled logistics professionals who understand both the software and their transportation network.


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MercuryGate Tip: Customize Your Bill of Lading

By Jeff Williams

The bill of lading (BOL) is a document that’s barely big enough to pack in all of the data and legalese needed to make it work.  It’s a pain to get it right, and once we have it we don’t want to give it much thought.  The problem is that these documents usually look generic because there’s no room for extras like trade dress – those expensive logos and slogan marks that set your company apart. Because the BOL passes through so many supply chain points it’s seen by a lot of people, and it’s an opportunity to show that trade dress to buyers, traders, haulers, accountants, etc.  That little attention to detail reminds them all that you care about those fine details that escape your competitors.  And it consistently reiterates your brand, a subtle yet effective marketing opportunity.

But there’s just no way to squeeze in that trade dress… or is there?

If you use MercuryGate then you know that it provides a powerful document customization based on iReports/JasperReports.  If your BOL is already an iReport then there is a clever and simple way to include your trade dress on your existing BOL: a background half-tone logo or image.

Trade Dress on BOL

If you know iReports it’s a simple process to add this.

  1. Start with a large, high-resolution copy of your company logo and import it into a pixel graphics program like Photoshop.
  2. Select the half-tone tool and experiment with settings until you get something that looks good in black and white, but is light enough to read any text over it.
  3. Once you have an image you like then save it as a PNG.
  4. Now that you have the half-tone image you can open your BOL in iReports and import the PNG file in the attached resources.
  5. Drag the image onto the document and adjust its size and position until it looks good.
  6. Push it all the way to the bottom layer.  This will place it under all other document elements.
  7. There is a chance that some upper elements will have a white background that blocks the logo.  Use element properties to change those elements’ background color to transparent.
  8. Once you have the document the way you like, save the contents all together as a zip file and replace your existing document set in MercuryGate through the admin->documents option.
  9. If your document set is not already a zip file you will need to contact your MercuryGate rep to have them change that for you.  It is good practice to always make your MercurcyGate iReports a zip because you can add/remove images and subreports at any time.

It’s a simple process, but iReports can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know it. If you want this kind of treatment for your BOL, but aren’t quite ready to do it yourself, we have several staff members who can do it for you.  It may even be that you have a collection of BOL changes that have built over the years, and we can also make those changes during the facelift.  Now your BOL stands out from the crowd just as your company does.

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Keeping Pace with Changes in Supply Chain Management

By Bill Cunningham

0f335efSupply Chain Management is an ever-evolving industry.  It was not until the 1960’s that the concept was actually defined, and even at that point, all the various aspects to a business were still seen as individual silos, not one interrelated system.  But as time passes and technology advances it has became clear that there are substantial economic benefits to developing an integrated supply chain.

“Keeping Pace with the Skills Needed to Manage Supply Chains” (Supply Chain 247, April 15, 2013) by Edgar Blanco and Chris Caplice highlights how Supply Chain Management (SCM) has evolved and highlights the skills that are required to effectively manage it in today’s global environment.

There has been an evolution from basic supply chain functionality towards a more strategic approach applying technology, metrics and risk management disciplines.  In this environment, SCM leaders need to have better analytical skills that they can cultivate within the organization, be leaders of virtual or multinational teams, skilled at integrating complex technology systems that span multiple functions / organizations, and be strategic thinkers at both the company and industry level.

Although this seems like a long list of prerequisites, here at Supply Chain Coach we couldn’t agree more.  This is why we coach our clients on how to build their business intelligence through better data analysis.  We emphasize building strategic business scenarios through modeling so our clients can see the big picture along with its possibilities.  We help companies transition to cloud-based technologies for reliability and efficiency.  And we coach them on creating uniform and consistent project management with clear and concise communication.

The quick pace of advancing technology has propelled this evolution in SCM.  Supply Chain professionals who use these advances to their advantage can outpace those who remain complacent with the old ways of doing things.

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Process Flow: The First Step

By Tom French

Tom FrenchNow more than ever the conversation about data management is ever pressing.  With so many systems and devices constantly being introduced or improved upon, many companies feel a sense of urgency to capitalize on maximizing their profits within their supply chain by implementing new data tracking systems.  The instinct is valid, but the process requires some strategy.

In the May 2013 Logistics Management Issue their cover story “Real Time Visibility Within Reach” was a comprehensive article with nuggets from industry followers providing updates and trends on the growing importance of Automatic Data Capture (ADC), Transportation Management Systems (TMS), Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Global Trade Management Systems (GTM).

In the article the most prevalent insights were touched upon by John Hall in the WMS section where he stated, “Well defined workflows and procedures have always been important to laying out the proper foundation for successful WMS configuration and deployment, but never more important here.”

Also, in the inset article “Research: Overcoming WMS Upgrade Fears” Ian Hobkirk states, “Adequately defining business requirements upfront is still the most important thing a company can do to ensure success.”  These statements are so true.  More often than not companies do not have their business requirements defined and their current “AS IS” process flow mapped.

The process flow mapping exercise is especially important in order to provide visibility to what processes steps can be eliminated or automated with the WMS.  Most companies want to jump right into process flow mapping and skip to the end, reaping the potential benefits of properly processing data.  But until the existing process is identified, even the most sophisticated WMS is only as good as the information you know to give it.  This is why it is vitally important to first map the “AS IS” process.

The overall theme to the article is exciting for the Supply Chain Management field, as data capturing is getting easier and more affordable.  But the true savings are unquestionably linked to properly identifying the existing process so that the desired outcome can come to fruition.

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Moving into E-commerce

By Sam Smith

The integration of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers with e-commerce is a common and popular trend that doesn’t appear to be tapering off.  In the April 2013 edition of Inbound Logistics there is a great article highlighting a few leading companies who are successfully paving the way between these two worlds.

Home DepotThe portion of the article that spoke about the national home improvement retailer Home Depot was particularly interesting.  Their success has been in maintaining close to 35,000 SKU’s readily available on hand in their stores for the in-person customer experience, while their DC’s stock over three-times that amount for their online consumer.  They added use of a fully interchangeable system, where customers can look at items, purchase, or return items online or in-store; or do any combination. This strategy makes the costumer experience seamless while ensuring that the consumers home improvement needs are being met one way or another through Home Depot.

As a developer, I see more problems in the interface side with our customers. The article talked about managing inventory, where I am often thinking about the overall importance of managing data. We know that data needs to be completely correct, since with e-commerce there can be little human work so there is nobody to catch errors.  Efficient, accurate data extraction and tracking is key to successfully executing an online business.

The article also highlights a common challenge in e-commerce of efficiently delivering products to the consumer in the quickest / cost effective ways.  With retailers like Google’s Shopping Express and Amazon Primes same day delivery programs, retailers are pioneering a new world of logistics.  At Supply Chain Coach we have successfully used a Web Portal Platform through MercuryGate that creates shipments that represent home deliveries, helping retailers stay on the competitive edge.

As the article points out, e-commerce is still relatively new and has room for development as technology is ever changing, but it is an exciting time for retailers to increase their customer base and move beyond the limited possibilities in a traditional brick-and-mortar store.



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Supply Chain Management can be the Key to Sustainable Growth for the Small to Mid-Size Business

By Mary Hubbard

imagesOftentimes the small to mid-size (SMB) retailer underestimate their ability to make necessary changes to ensure their financial success.  A recent article in Logistics Viewpoints by Karen D’Andrea of Pitney Bowes, highlights four steps that could make all the difference.

Because many SMBs focus on the idea that resolving their day-to-day business operations outweighs the analysis and implementation of shipment management opportunities, they miss out on the significant savings associated with reducing freight costs.

Only 25% of SMBs use a transportation management system (TMS).  A good TMS can identify shipping management solutions, optimize system automation, integrate inventory management from multiple stores or warehouse locations, and create multi-carrier shipment management solutions.

While most SMBs may feel they are not yet ready for or don’t need a TMS, a growing company often finds that their logistics expenses outpace their revenue growth. For instance, they may add more warehouse capacity, in “stair-step” mode, and thus the per-unit cost of their logistics operations shifts.  Successfully growing as a business is unquestionably linked to optimizing logistics within the supply chain.  A transportation management system is an easy way to ensure that success.

For most of our clients, we favor MercuryGate (as does Forrester Research) or 3PL Central, but we can support you in selecting a TMS that’s a good fit for your unique situation.




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