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Leveraging Wholesale Distribution Software for Competitive Advantage – Delivering Value-Added Services

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 by admin

Businesses across all industries strive to gain and sustain a competitive advantage in their respective marketplaces. And, this is certainly just as true for wholesale distributors. One of the ways in which wholesale distributors strive to gain a competitive advantage is to deliver value-added services in conjunction with the products they source for their customers. Strong wholesale distribution software must enable distributors to perform and record these activities just as they do purchasing, warehousing, picking, packing, shipping, and invoicing the products they distribute.

There are a variety of methods by which distributors strive to differentiate themselves to their customer base. Distributors may allow their customers to buy products as a kit, where by a series of items can be specified and ordered via one SKU or item number. Wholesale distribution software like TGI’s Enterprise 21 can enable distributors to sell both predefined kits to their customers and configurable kits where the customer can select those items which are included in the given kit being ordered. Distributors can elect to price these kits to their customers at the parent kit SKU level or by a combination of prices for those items making up the kit. The latter method is especially good for configurable kits. Furthermore, distributors may elect to perform kitting via simple picking operations or as a work order-based process when they desire to capture the costs associated with their kitting operations.

Another value-added service which distributors commonly perform is repacking. In this case, distributors may buy a given product in bulk quantities and repack it into smaller quantities for their customers to purchase. As was the case with kitting operations, some distributors will elect to capture the labor costs associated with these operations while others would not.

For wholesale distribution software that includes strong manufacturing functionality, distributors can perform assembly or light manufacturing operations. In these cases, the system’s traditional manufacturing bill of materials and routings (or bill of operations) can be used to define and execute the series of operations and associated components being consumed in assembly or manufacturing. As was true above with the kitting operations being performed via work orders, wholesale distributors can capture the associated costs of these operations. The actual material, labor, and overhead consumed at each point in the routing can be recorded with the associated costs rolled up across the various operations to produce an overall product cost in the system. Alternatively, the distributor may elect to record material, labor, and overhead at a standard rate of consumption via a simple backflushing method. Furthermore, distributors can elect to reflect product costs via their preferred costing methods including actual LIFO, actual FIFO, standard, or average.

In addition, distributors may have outside, third-party companies perform outsourced operations on their behalf. Strong wholesale distribution software will enable the distributors to source the components to be consumed for the outside processor, purchase and track the shipment of these components to the third-party, cut purchase orders for the performance of the outside operation’s services, receive the completed products back from the third-party, and pay the respective vendors for their products and services. Taking advantage of the manufacturing functionality within a strong wholesale distribution system, the material, labor, and overhead associated with the outside operations can be recorded just as it would be if the assembly or manufacturing were performed in-house by the distributor. These outside operations can also be daisy-chained in a manner that one third-party may receive certain components and perform specific operations, then ship the subassemblies to another third-party for secondary processing, and so forth, until the finished product is either delivered to the distributor or direct-shipped by the last third-party in the chain to the distributor’s customer.

Wholesale distributors may also elect to place consignment inventory at a customer location. In this case, the inventory is owned by the distributor until the customer consumes the given inventory. Strong wholesale distribution software will enable the distributors to place and manage the inventory at the customer location, receive the appropriate signal that the inventory has been consumed, trigger the appropriate customer invoice processing, and manage the level of consigned inventory based on the preferred replenishment methodology for that inventory at that customer location. Consignment inventory can also be used with third-party operations for managing component inventory until it is consumed in production runs.

Through leveraging strong wholesale distribution systems like TGI’s Enterprise 21, wholesale distributors can gain and maintain a strong competitive advantage in their industries by delivering value-added services to their customers.


The Specifics of Available and Capable to Promise Order Management for the Wholesale Distributor

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 by Alex Smith

A key functional element to any wholesale distribution software solution is order management. One’s ability to enter orders quickly and in an efficient manner can dramatically improve customer relations and service. As part of the order management process, a sophisticated distribution software solution should include both available-to-promise (ATP) and capable-to-promise (CTP) order management processes to ensure accurate commitment of shipment and delivery dates for customers at the time of order entry.

Available to promise means that when a customer places an order for a given item, the item is available in inventory (taking into account items that have already been allocated to previous orders). Available to promise functionality can go one step further to include a “commit to planned inventory” feature. This functionality is utilized when a sales order is placed for an item that is not currently in inventory, or is in inventory in insufficient quantity to satisfy the requirements of the customer. If there is already an existing open purchase order for that given item, the system can commit items on that purchase order to the existing open sales order based on the vendor’s delivery promise dates. Such a feature can dramatically improve anticipated shipping and delivery dates for the organization’s customers while simultaneously increasing inventory turns and lowering on-hand inventory levels.

In contrast to available to promise, capable to promise defines the ability of the organization to execute against a given customer requirement. For example, consider the situation when a customer places an order for a given item and the item is not in available inventory and there are no existing open purchase orders for the given item. In Enterprise 21, the system will alert the customer service representative in real-time that while the item is not in available inventory and that there are no open purchase orders for that item, the item is capable of being ordered, received into inventory, and shipped to the customer within a specific time frame based on the item’s lead time from a given supplier. While accounting for the item’s lead time, Enterprise 21 will immediately suggest an expected receipt date of the item into the warehouse, an expected ship date to the customer, and a final receipt date at the customer’s facility. In other words, at the time of order entry, the organization has the ability to identify its capability to fulfill the given customer order and provide an accurate shipping and delivery date for that order to the customer. Enterprise 21 can then generate a purchasing requirement and alert employees in the purchasing department that such a purchase requirement exists in the system. The purchasing manager can then analyze potential suppliers and look for discount opportunities from each supplier, submit requests for quotes to suppliers, generate purchase requisitions, and convert quotes into final purchases orders, all directly from within Enterprise 21.

By implementing available to promise, commit to planned inventory, and capable to promise functionality within the sales order management process, wholesale distributors can dramatically improve customer satisfaction, increase order and line item fill rates and inventory turns, and realize significant cost savings due to reduced inventory carrying costs.


Executive Dashboards: Analyzing Key Business Data for Decision-Making

Friday, June 19th, 2009 by Alex Smith

Executives at organizations of all sizes require key business data to make informed decisions for future business practices, focus, and growth. As part of Enterprise 21’s decision support system, executives can readily gain visibility to key data and make informed decisions that will affect the future of their organizations by leveraging the analytical power of their personalized executive dashboards. In my experience, most executives, at a high-level, are generally concerned with similar key performance indicators (KPI’s) for analysis and decision-making purposes. It is important to note that while dashboards are an excellent way to gain visibility to key data, they are not intended for executives to get “bogged down” in detailed data; executives’ time is best-spent analyzing data and making decisions at a much higher level.

One common, useful executive dashboard is a graph providing sales margin by product or product group. This dashboard allows the executive to see margin as a percent of sales for individual products or group of products in a visual manner. If a distribution company, for example, has dedicated significant sales and marketing efforts to a given product but that product has a significantly lower margin than another product, the organization can decide to direct more sales and marketing efforts to the product with a higher margin (this assumes that both products have relatively equal order volumes, as you would not necessarily want to dedicate significant sales and marketing efforts to a product with relatively low order volumes despite a high margin).

A second executive dashboard that is commonly used by manufacturing executives is one showing manufacturing output by product by facility. This dashboard allows manufacturing executives to analyze the facilities that have the highest production output for a given product compared to other facilities producing the same product (assuming equal resources are available across each facility). Comparing production output for a given product across multiple facilities allows the executive to gain insight into what facilities are operating more efficiently than others. This information can allow the executive to initiate potential business process improvements at the lower producing facility or reallocate resources across facilities in such a way that a given product is produced only at those facilities that produce the product with the most efficiency, leading to reduced costs and increased production output for all products and facilities.

A third executive dashboard that, while not used nearly as frequently as it should be, can lead to significant growth in profitability and customer service is a gross margin by customer dashboard. If I were to ask most manufacturers or distributors who their most valuable customer is, most would reply that the most valued customer is the customer who orders the most products with the highest frequency. While high order volume, high order frequency customers are certainly important, the executive should also carefully examine those customers who are providing the business with its largest sales margins. Focusing on the customers who are responsible for the organization’s largest sales margins is important because these customers deliver the most profitability at the least expense to the business. Ensuring that the products these customers order are always available in inventory and establishing these customers as “high priority” can lead to improved customer relations and increased profitability with minimal expense to the organization.

In sum, executives who leverage key business data dashboards are armed with the necessary information to make well-informed decisions for future business growth, output, and profitability.


Food Distribution Software – Good Systems Enable Your Food Retail Customers to “Have it Their Way”

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by admin

One of the ways in which businesses can elect to compete is through a strategy of customer intimacy. In other words, enabling companies to make it so easy for their customers to transact business with them that they’d be fools to go anywhere else. So, let’s explore how a customer intimacy strategy applies to the food distribution industry and how a strong food distribution software solution can enable a business to achieve a sustained competitive advantage.

First, there are a multitude of methods by which orders can be placed in the food distribution industry. Of course, there are the traditional tried and true methods of phone and fax orders, where customer personnel speak with their vendor’s customer service or sales representatives or fax in their orders respectively. When phone orders are taken, good food distribution software solutions enable the customer service or sales representative to take the order in a rapid manner without slowing down the conversation with the customer. These systems can also present a series of other data including information about those products the customer orders most frequently and those products the customer has not ordered within their typical frequency. By doing so, there can be opportunities to upsell the customer or prompt the customer to remember to include additional SKU’s on the given order.

Additionally, there is an entire series of electronic means by which customer orders can be captured and entered into the supplying food distributor’s ERP system. These methods include traditional EDI processing, Web data entry via the supplier’s Web site, and several means by which handheld devices can be leveraged. Relative to handheld devices, if the vendor is performing direct-store delivery, the sales or delivery person can capture information about what products are needed in the next order directly in the customer’s store. Likewise, if vendor personnel are not directly in the customer’s stores on a day-to-day basis, the vendor can provide handheld devices to their key retail customers so customer personnel can enter orders directly into the handheld units as they walk the retail floor. These orders are transmitted directly into the food distributor’s inventory control system for replenishment.

Order acknowledgements and advance shipping notices (ASN’s) can be tailored on a customer-by-customer basis as well. Order acknowledgements can be delivered to food retailers via email, fax, or EDI. ASN’s can be sent by food distributors to their retail customers alerting them as to what products are being delivered associated with a given shipment.

Food retailers can have their vendors perform additional value-added services on their behalf to reduce requirements for internal operations at the retailers and speed product to the shelves. Unique product labeling and retail price marking are two relevant examples of value-added services food distributors can perform on behalf of their retail customers via good food distribution systems.

When the given distributor performs direct-store delivery, the electronic notification of the product delivered can be provided and an electronic proof-of-delivery can be captured which can be provided to the retailer. When shipping is done via common carrier, retailers may elect to have their distributors mark the product for store-level delivery though the actual physical delivery may occur via a retailer’s distribution center. This, too, will help to speed product to the shelves for consumers.

Finally, after the transaction is completed, delivering clean invoices is another element of delighting the customer. Whether these invoices are printed and delivered at the store via a mobile printer, delivered electronically at the point of delivery via DEX processing, printed and sent from the food distributor’s back office operations, or delivered out of the food distribution system via EDI processing, customer transaction processing can be tailored easily to customer preferences (or demands).

Food distributors can become invaluable partners to their retail customers through a combination of strong processes, systems, and technology. TGI’s Enterprise 21 ERP, which can be leveraged with Versatile Systems’ Mobiquity Route™ for direct-store delivery and route accounting, provides food distributors with the opportunity to establish and maintain a competitive advantage in their respective marketplaces.


Gaining Visibility to Key Performance Metrics in the Distribution Industry

Friday, May 15th, 2009 by admin

In a recent survey research paper titled, “Technology in Distribution: Trends and Future Challenges,” Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., founder and president of Pembroke Consulting, Inc., discusses, among other things, how many distributors across various industries lack the ability to track key performance metrics. The specific key performance metrics evaluated in Dr. Fein’s research include gross profit by customer, average order size by customer, operating profit by customer, delivery performance by customer, and profitability of fee-based services.

While executives from various distribution industries report mixed and, in some cases, disappointing results in their abilities to access such information, distributors using TGI’s Enterprise 21 wholesale distribution software can readily gain access to these and other key performance metrics. While Dr. Fein’s research paper focuses on the distribution industry, manufacturers who run the Enterprise 21 system can also leverage its business intelligence software capabilities to gain a competitive advantage.

By leveraging Enterprise 21’s business intelligence functionality, executives and all system users can have their own personalized dashboards consisting of the information that is most important to their day-to-day operations. Each individual’s dashboard in Enterprise 21 can consist of an infinite number of tabs with up to four information panes per tab. The information panes can include data displayed in graphical and tabular formats. Some of the graphical views available include pie charts, bar charts, area charts, and gas gauges, which allow executives and other system users to enjoy rapid access to key performance metrics.

Furthermore, while individuals can view summarized data in their dashboards, Enterprise 21’s business intelligence capabilities enable individual dashboard panes to be opened in full analytical drill-down mode, so users can slice-and-dice the information for further analysis purposes. This slice-and-dice capability enables executives to start with a broad brush view of their operations while being able to drill down in detail to pinpoint opportunities for continuous improvement within their organizations. In addition to being able to review and analyze operational data within Enterprise 21, executives can also have financial reports delivered to their dashboards, providing them with a consolidated electronic management book with easy access.

Through the use of Enterprise 21’s business intelligence functionality, executives can efficiently manage their organizations by gaining immediate, consolidated visibility to key performance metrics through individualized dashboards. By leveraging Enterprise 21’s analytical slice-and-dice capabilities, executives can readily identify opportunities for improvement which can lead to increased bottom-line results.

For additional information about Enterprise 21’s business intelligence capabilities and to further review how distribution and manufacturing executives can gain improved visibility to their organizations’ key performance metrics, please view an overview demonstration of Enterprise 21’s business intelligence functionality by clicking here.


Wholesale Distributors Enjoy Flexibility When Implementing Enterprise 21 Warehouse Management Functionality

Monday, May 4th, 2009 by admin

A common discussion we have with wholesale distributors revolves around how they can best implement Enterprise 21’s warehouse management system. The great majority of these distributors envision moving to a completely paperless warehouse environment where warehouse workers are prompted via handheld and fork lift-mounted devices to perform the next highest priority task in their work queues.

Prior to moving to Enterprise 21, all of the distributors with whom we work were using some form of paper in their warehouse operations. Most of these organizations had their warehouse personnel writing on paper pick tickets as they went through the picking process and had the data electronically entered into their existing legacy systems hours later. Others may have been using a combination of paper and some scanning when they initially approached TGI.

In the case where there was manual recording of results, a paper pick ticket was printed and associated with each given sales order. Warehouse personnel would take the paper pick ticket, walk through the facility, and pick the items associated with that order. As the workers picked the order(s), they wrote the results of their efforts on the paper pick ticket, especially noting any places where there were discrepancies in the number of items picked or locations from which they picked. Some time later (and in many cases, much later), warehouse operators gave their hand-written picking results to an administrator for keying this information into their legacy system.

This paper-based process presented several challenges. First, there were delays between the time the physical transactions occurred and when those transactions were recorded into the system. Second, the one who recorded the data into the system was frequently not the same person who performed the physical transactions. In this case, there were opportunities for recording incorrect data when the written results were illegible and the data entry person made his or her best guess as to what was recorded. Because of these practices, the information in the computer system was inaccurate and generally not trusted. By moving to a real-time inventory system, such as Enterprise 21, where transactions are recorded in the system at the point and time in which they occur, inventory data becomes more accurate and timely.

In addition to improving inventory accuracy, distributors can take advantage of more efficient warehouse processes in Enterprise 21. One of the major advantages that organizations who ship a lot of small package deliveries can gain from Enterprise 21 is moving to a cart picking process. When doing cart picking, rather than performing picking on an order-by-order basis, warehouse personnel can perform a consolidated picking process for multiple orders concurrently, thus reducing labor consumed compared with picking each order on its own. Once a cart picking process is completed, the cart is moved to a packing location where the various orders on the cart are packed and prepared for shipment. Enterprise 21 can also enable warehouse operations to take advantage of other warehouse efficiencies including zone picking and wave picking.

The warehouse management software functionality in Enterprise 21 is fully-integrated with the entire Enterprise 21 ERP software application. Since this functionality is built into Enterprise 21, TGI customers do not have to try to keep separate systems in sync with each other or have to worry about what will occur to their ERP to WMS interface when they upgrade one of these systems.

A major advantage of Enterprise 21’s warehouse management system is that new TGI customers can elect to start their initial operations at system go-live at any point on the functionality continuum, from printing of paper pick tickets and manually recording the data to fully paperless operations. Over time, distributors can continue to streamline their operations and take advantage of more and more of the process efficiencies afforded by Enterprise 21.

By implementing the warehouse management functionality in Enterprise 21, distributors can improve inventory accuracy and gain operational efficiencies in a manner that can best be assimilated into their warehouse operations.