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Avoiding the pitfalls of supply chain management

This article appears in the issue January 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 1]

While every implementation is different, common success factors apply to any logistics and supply chain environment. Here are a few:
  • Plan for exceptions. A key problem that plagues many installations is that an automated process enforces a degree of rigidity in how information is collected, shared and processed. Often people will insist that a process works a particular way and only that way. When the system is developed or installed, organizations discover that those processes have exceptions. Exceptions can be difficult to handle in an automated environment. Careful needs analysis, which examines all transactions, can help avoid some of those problems, but assume that exceptions still must be handled.
  • Include support for manual processing. Once the new automated system is in place, some transactions will still require manual processing. Outside suppliers (especially smaller firms), for example, might not have the same technology capabilities and may need to provide information in a paper format. Make sure your system still provides the ability to collect and manage information the same way you do today.
  • Test interfaces. Depending on the complexity and exact use of your logistics management application, it is necessary for various components to integrate to work properly. In many cases, system components must work with outside suppliers, customers and other third parties. New standards such as ODMA are fast emerging to help simplify that integration, but problems are still likely. Be sure to test the interfaces carefully to ensure that transactions and information are transferred consistently between both internal and external components.
  • Test and migrate to production. If your system does integrate with outside partners, it is almost a sure bet that the system will not work properly when you first install. Supply and logistics applications are among the most difficult to implement and almost always require some period of tuning and system adjustment. Before you make the system assume its mission-critical role, look at ways to phase in the implementation and test it carefully before going completely live.
  • Train thoroughly. The addition of knowledge management technology to help address supply and logistic needs requires more advanced knowledge workers than most workflow systems because of the tight integration into legacy applications and specific information content that drives transactions. Be sure that users have better than average training about how the entire process worksÑnot just their portion of the system.
  • Manage expectations. These systems hold great promise, and management and users often expect revolutionary changes once the system is installed. Changes and benefits will occur, but a cautious, low-risk implementation approach often means that changes are not as profound when the system is first installed. That can result in disappointed users and management unless they understand that the installation is a milestone and not the finish line.

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