Supply Chain Synchronization

Supply Chain Synchronization: The tight co-ordination of a variety of data, transaction and physical process and activity schedules of a number of players in a given supply chain or grouping of supply chains.
As supply chain management advances to extend across the supply chains of multiple companies, it becomes necessary to tightly synchronize supply chain data, methods and scheduling.
Supply Chain Synchronization begins with base product data in electronic catalogues, to standard transactions such as purchase orders, shipment notices and supply chain exceptions.
Eight dimensions of the supply chain are listed below and are a compendium of various individual supply chain strategies which are to be now combined on a multi-company basis for greatest success and effect;
1. People Communication, Co-Ordination & Education
2. Complete Process and Delivery Timing
3. Product/Information Linking
4. Order Timing and Unitization
5. Information Movement and Synchronization
6. Process Exception Monitoring and Reporting
7. Physical Movement and Modal Optimization
8. Dynamic Process Adjustment and Optimization The Forum for Supply Chain Integration

ec-bp was established in 2005 as the advocate for lowering the barriers to the adoption of EDI, and our email newsletter has been published every month since that time. Our focus has expanded beyond EDI to encompas the full gamut of supply chain practices and technologies. In addition, our readership has grown to become the largest of any similarly focused publication, and has expanded to include more than 90,000 professionals involved in nearly every aspect of the supply chain.

Today’s supply chain is more than simple transport of EDI documents. The complexity of maintaining compliance with trading partners, managing the ever increasing amount of data, and analyzing that data to drive constant improvement in processes and service take supply chain professionals far beyond the basics of mapping EDI documents.

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1. People Communication, Co-Ordination & Education

The people or cultural issues surrounding Supply Chain Synchronization are hugely important. That is why we have identified People Communication, Co-Ordination & Education as the first dimension requiring synchronization as a key foundation for the success of the supply chain synchronization process.
Regardless what anyone tells you about the latest and greatest of supply chain, materials handling or logistics systems, it is still to this date the people that make it all happen. Without the support of motivated, interested and educated people not even the worthiest of supply chain ventures will succeed even in half measure. In fact because of the cross company, boundaryless nature of the synchronization project, this type of human understanding and buy in is even more critical. Synchronizing people to ensure the synchronization of process, information and supply chain activities can be one of the most challenging and time consuming activities around, but the results can lead to greater synergies and levels of integration than have ever been previously achieved.
The first step in the People Synchronization process is education and literally explaining in as simple terms as possible what the Synchronization process is, what it intends to achieve, how it intends to achieve it and what is the individual's or group's part in making it all happen. This level of direct communication must be continued throughout the process in order to facilitate the gathering of needed information and the development of the detailed linkages required between the employees of participating firms to ensure success. Additionally, once the information has been gathered and analyzed, direct facilitation between the parties must be carried out to ensure product, ordering and systems information are correctly updated to support the co-ordinated scheduling upon which supply chain synchronization is based. Again it is the people aspects and diligence of those involved which support this and ensures that as few exceptions as possible exist once the scheduled supply chain is actually " switched on ". Beyond this level comes the actual execution layer when after implementation, effective communication is needed to tweak and fine tune the synchronized supply chain. Often this occurs when faced of unforeseen difficulties, and it is the strength of prior personal contact and buy in to the vision which makes the difference in motivating individuals to make the rapid changes required to keep the initiative on track. All of the following dimensions described throughout this article are important to the process, but without effective synchronization of the people involved, you are probably doomed to failure or at best mediocre success. As you can see from above, the people aspect touches all of the other dimensions and therefore justifies its position as the first dimension in Supply Chain Synchronization.

Managing a LEAN Supply Chain

A lean supply chain procures only the parts/materials it needs. It manufacturers only what is needed. It stores and transports exactly what the customer wants. And the members of the supply chain (the manufacturing company, external suppliers, external logistics companies and the customer) coordinate with each other to do the job exactly when it is needed. Visibility across the supply chain is the key to make this happen. The Internet, EDI and supply chain software are the tools. Anything that gets in the way of this process is called “waste”.

2. Complete Process and Delivery Timing

Once one is on top of the people aspects and has achieved buy in from all involved players, the next dimension of Supply Chain Synchronization is the development of Complete Process and Delivery Timing or the actual supply chain schedule. This development is somewhat of an art in itself as it is different for each supply chain studied and involves the mapping and understanding the current supply chain flows and timings followed by the development of the new or optimized supply chain synchronization model. The interesting aspect of this comes from the fact that the diverse flows and eccentricities of multiple companies are coming together presenting simultaneous multiple challenges from cube, weight, density and compatibility standpoints, all within the associated cube and weight capacity parameters of the transport mode selected. On top of this, it is also important to note that due to capabilities and limitations of various firms, that this schedule will almost always vary between different participants and ultimately require ongoing change and modification as these capabilities and technologies change over the life of the program.
The first step in the synchronized design is mapping of the current process to be synchronized from start to finish, including volume and timing aspects for all potential participants. Once this is completed, a number of trends and levels of competency within the group of players will become apparent.
As well current start to finish supply chain timing can be compared with the potential optimal timing model to develop a comparison of the current reality to the proposed vision and identify the rough magnitude of the opportunity at hand. Based on the optimal model developed, the new process flow and timing should then be defined allowing appropriate variance in timings for the different levels of players identified. Initially, it is always better to error on the safe side when setting delivery lead times for given firms to ensure that the schedule is consistently met, which lead times can subsequently be tightened should improved capabilities be confirmed.
Once this schedule has been developed for each player, all associated volumes and density information can then be overlaid to define the entire supply chain flow. After all have been combined, minor adjustments may be required to fine tune, but now a relevant model will be in place from which expected delivery frequency determinations can be made on the newly synchronized supply chain. This will also now provide you with the information to go back to the participants and define specifically for each, their requirements to become part of the new synchronized process. It will also become apparent over time as volumes grow, the levels at which additional delivery days can be added to the program. Additionally, as other potential destinations are investigated as shipping locations for the program, similar specific process models will be required for each.
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3. Product/Information Linking

In order to develop a true synchronization process, it is necessary to connect the physical aspects of the supply chain with the information systems methods which will be utilized to track, manage and improve the supply chain synchronization process. Product/Information Linking is therefore the next dimension in Supply Chain Synchronization and can be rapidly achieved through the use of an accurate product file including unique sku identifiers, cube, weight, unitization, temperature control and product compatibility information. This matched with an appropriate barcode symbology system will allow for the required tracking in a seamless and accurate fashion. It is important out of the gate to rapidly correct any inconsistencies discovered in these files during product processing, and to maintain the product file in an up top date and accurate state as products are added, deleted or modified in cube, weight or tie pattern. Due to the multicompany nature of the supply chain synchronization process, it may be necessary to apply this barcoding at a central processing point unless general buy in and a standardized labeling system can be installed in each participant's warehouse. It is far better to apply the synchronized labeling at the time of pick to eliminate added steps in the process and the potential for mis-application of labels when this is completed as a secondary process.

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4. Order Timing and Unitization

Order Timing and Unitization is the next dimensional level of supply chain synchronization required to assist in achievement of the completely synchronized supply chain. This aspect performs two critical tasks in improving the overall process, both tied directly to the order creation process. One, the timing when an order is generated is a key component in ensuring the supply chain schedule is met. I cannot stress enough the critical nature of correct purchase orders creation at the correct time to support and facilitate the entire synchronization process. In this case, garbage in/garbage out could not be even more appropriate. If the order is generated late, then supply chain partners cannot hope to meet their part of the schedule, causing the order to miss an entire replenishment cycle. This will then throw off the potential balance of co-ordinated loading and movements for any number of other related orders in the same synchronization sequence. In the same way, the order defines the product quantities and to meet the highest level of synchronization efficiency, these should all match tie/tier and or pallet multiples for most products. This is a critical point of control to allow for efficient handling and loading of products for greatest vehicle cube utilization, reduced handling, rapid checking and also practically eliminates damage from the transportation process. Careful initial validation and ongoing follow-up of the synchronization dimension of Order Timing and Unitization is critical to the physical success and efficiency of the overall synchronization effort, and in some cases this important step is overlooked leading to only partial improvements in the total supply chain process. The critical factor for completing and maintaining this level of coordination to the process is by supporting and utilizing appropriate information movement and synchronization activities which will be discussed in the next section.

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5. Information Movement and Synchronization

Information Movement and Synchronization Activities must be developed in parallel to the overall effort and the collection and monitoring process streamlined as much as possible to minimize additional data collection. In other words the data collection should take place as a byproduct of the supply chain process, not become an activity unto itself. This is partially completed by the two items identified above, the barcode symbology and the Purchase Order. As the two key data streams, collection can be easily integrated into the supply chain synchronization processes by integrating scanning into the handling process and by collecting electronically at source all of the purchase orders generated for all movements in the process. Now this may sound like and indeed is a large and valuable body of data, but collected in this fashion can be almost transparent and non-invasive to those carrying out the process. A sequence of rules can be developed to effectively test each of these items as they move through the process and flag those requiring attention/action as exceptions, the management of which exceptions represents the next dimension of synchronization to be discussed.

6. Process Exception Monitoring and Reporting

Process Exception Monitoring and Reporting is key to actually maintaining the order the synchronization process has put to all of the supply chain activities which are involved in the total process. There are a number of exceptions to both scheduling, format, unitization and base data sets which all will generate relevant exceptions which must be acted upon in some cases and collected for monitoring, reporting and improvement purposes in others. If all of the above dimensions have been properly synchronized, the remaining exception levels should be manageable, however if there are gaps, flaws and inaccuracies in earlier information used to build the synchronized system, then these will become readily apparent. These exceptions require immediate attention and correction or the entire process will be in jeopardy and will rapidly deteriorate back into a chaos perhaps worse than the original supply chain flows merged into the process. There is reporting at two levels, one immediate where exceptions are flagged and delivered for immediate attention to the supply chain partner required to act on correcting the exception, which can be done either electronically through internet messaging or via equally effective auto generated faxes in less sophisticated implementations. The second level of reporting is on a cumulative basis, period by period of the key metrics monitored to maintain and enhance the synchronization process to the key movers and shakers at the partner firms. These are the reports which will point out the significant ongoing issues arising within the process for correction as well as identify perhaps uncooperative players who are not meeting their part of the program objectives. There only remain two dimensions to complete the synchronization octagon and they relate to the actual physical aspects and transportation mode issues which equally require the synchronizer's attention for complete success in this area. And finally, the need to maintain a dynamic process for continuing adjustment and improvement of the synchronization process to ingrain ongoing change and optimization as the total supply chain changes.

7. Physical Movement and Modal Optimization

In the end it is the actual physical movement of the product successfully, on time and undamaged that defines the success of the supply chain. Synchronization can help this process to be as cost efficient as possible, but it is important not to lose sight of the overall aim. And in the end it is final execution to the customer which will be remembered by clients, not the beautifully attempted synchronization of the process which in their case perhaps failed to deliver. Physical Movement and Modal Optimization is the process which must be synchronized to deliver in this regard and whether services are provided directly by the synchronizing party or by another supporting carrier, they must in either case be bulletproof ! The result of the synchronization process should allow for the accurate measurement of the Perfect Order rate for the supply channel, which if all is functioning well, should represent significantly improved, if not world class results for this metric. The first step in defining the physical movement process is to determine the required service level or delivery lead time that is desirable or minimally acceptable to the supply channel participants, as this is the base level of service provision required. Once this determination is made and a mode selected the next step is to determine optimal load mix density based on the total usable cube of the vehicle and maximum allowable transport weight. Through this process, one should then be in a position to define the optimal or Perfect Trailer as the goal of the load optimization process, which methodology can then be built into load building algorithms in the provider's system. This program will be based on the total order flow cube, density and quantities for all products moving to a given destination in the same service timeframe.

8. Dynamic Process Adjustment and Optimization

The final dimension for Supply Chain Synchronization is Dynamic Process Adjustment and Optimization which is the art of developing or defining rules and methods for the successful, ongoing adjustment and optimization of the process given the number of rapidly changing variables which can impact the supply chain. Some examples of these things can be the introduction of specialized, express levels of service to seamlessly recover should your service provider partially fail. Also, the ability to switch to varying size and capacity of containers should volume fluctuations on a given lane and given day so dictate. As well, active analysis of cubic imbalances should be maintained and active solicitation of new partners to balance these should be pursued. Finally, as the supply chain synchronization effort proceeds and grows, so do the destinations, complexity of service and opportunities for greater synergies among the players, and these should also be actively monitored and acted upon when appropriate. There is no doubt that the continual addition of critical mass to such a program will at some point hit justification levels for advanced handling and automation equipment to speed and simplify the process. In the end, it is through careful monitoring of these optimization opportunities which will make the appropriate timing for such initiatives readily apparent.


Concluding, although Supply Chain Synchronization along the Eight Dimensions we have identified is a relatively new entrant to the supply chain supremacy race, there is no doubt that some firms are poised to make rapid progress in these regards. Achievement in this area on behalf of client's has a special meaning and value which can result in the development of longer term and more integrated provider/customer relationships, the likes of which have only been rarely seen in the world of JIT manufacturing and other similar endeavors. Synchronizing a supply chain is akin to the tuning and skilful playing of an instrument which art takes significant training and personal "hands on" practice, and we hope that the song defined in these Eight Dimensions will allow more practitioners to jointly advance the art of true Supply Chain Synchronization.

Looking Into The Cloud / Grappling with Cloud Concepts

The Cloud is with us and it is real! We have all heard something about it; accepted it; rejected it; or are still thinking about it. In some respects it is the old “outsourcing” debate all over again. Outsourcing is “good” because it focuses the company on its core competencies. Outsourcing is “bad” because the company loses control over vital operations. Accepting and utilizing the Cloud is just another of the revolutionary changes (PC, smart phone, etc.) that we have encountered over the last few years. In one sentence: Cloud computing eliminates: (1) staffing; (2) maintenance; (3) obsolescence of hardware, software; and (4) capital investment.

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Planning a Logistics System

Let's say we just got some good news: A client has just given us the assignment to plan a logistics system for a large food distribution contract they are bidding on. WOW! Where do we start?

Lets start by planning how we are going to plan!

In planning logistics operations, ‘To plan or not to plan’ should not be the question.” Instead, companies must know that failing to plan can have dire consequences. The first step in planning is understanding and analyzing operational data to build a foundation for a solution.

Mission (Who, What, When, Where, Why)

If you ask a dozen practitioners, list to a dozen speakers, read a dozen books, and go to a dozen university classes you will get dozens of ideas on how to plan a logistics operation. Not saying mine is the best, but I emulate the military. Why? Because they have been successful at logistics planning.

WHO: ClientCompany has a very successful track record supplying goods and services to similar entities.

WHAT: Contract calls for delivering food and food-related products on a daily basis.

WHEN: Begin approximately three months after contract award.

WHERE: Over 100 locations throughout the United States.

WHY: A well-designed and operated system will generate a high ROI to ClientCompany.

See the full article on Planning a logistics system

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Supply Chain Control Tower

Supply Chain Management Control Towers

Control towers are used in many industries for different purposes: airports and railroads use them for traffic control; power plants have control rooms to monitor operations; and third party logistics providers use them to track transportation activities. These are places where operations run well. Why not a


in order to monitor and assure your supply? Talk to us, we build them!

So just what is an SCM Control Tower? What are the functions of a Supply Chain Control Tower? Who staffs your Supply Chain Management Control Tower?

If you use an EDI VAN for your business, this message is for you. Move past the ancient VAN technology. JWH EDI Services Electronic Commerce Messaging System will bring your EDI operation into the 21st Century. The power of our global EDI network is available on your server, your cloud platform or your application. AND you cannot beat our prices.
You can connect and communicate with all your customers and trading partners through the JWH EDI Services Electronic Commerce Messaging System - Connect with trading partners around the world on a single Network-as-a-Service platform, get real-time transaction visibility and eliminate those manual network processes. It is a pay as you need model. We track all interchanges from the moment they enter the system, along every step across the network, and through the delivery confirmation.

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XML in Your Weather

Last year I developed a list of Ten Unique Ideas, Facts and Uses for XML. I just recently realized another one that impacts all of us every day. METAR is the most popular format in the world for the transmission of weather data.

It is highly standardized through International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which allows it to be understood throughout most of the world. The name METAR has its origins in the French phrase "message d’observation météorologique pour l’aviation régulière" ("Meteorological observation message for routine aviation") and would therefore be a contraction of MÉTéorologique Aviation Régulière. A METAR weather report is predominantly used by pilots in fulfillment of a part of a pre-flight weather briefing, and by meteorologists, who use aggregated METAR information to assist in weather forecasting. Although the general format of METAR reports is a global standard, the specific fields used within that format vary somewhat between general international usage and usage within North America. Note that there may be minor differences between countries using the international codes as there are between those using the North American conventions.

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Finding A 3PL Logistics Provider

I recently wrote about an interview I had with SPS Commerce concerning their Retail Universe? online community for trading partners. Subsequently I had a “real world” request from a client to find a 3PL to handle trucking and warehousing in southern Indiana. WOW! A real test for the power of RU!

Starting in Retail Universe’s “3rd Party Logistics” section, I find 47 companies. Pretty good for a “newborn”. My first criteria was LOCATION. I wanted to find somebody to support the whole State of Indiana and also Louisville and Chicago. But I wasn’t able to input multiple locations. Sounds like I might need to run my criteria multiple times. Indiana turned up 5 companies; Kentucky - one, but it is not Louisville; and Illinois has one, but it is not Chicago.

READ MORE ABOUT Finding A 3PL Logistics Provider

Remote Workers Do

Ever wonder how your telecommuting colleagues really live? Turns out, many of them actually do work in their pajamas. They also tend to love their work-life balance – to the point where they’d take a pay cut to maintain the status quo.

We have some fascinating facts from separate surveys by CIO Insight Magazine and Staples (office supplier who sells furniture). CIO Insight survey addresses out of office employees in general while the Staples survey is more focused on those who work from the home (and, of course, concerned with their office furniture, which most employers ignore with their remote workers). The top item on the wish list for a home office is a more comfortable chair!

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Hubs & Spokes, Spokes & Hubs

What is wrong with the current approach to EDI implementation? We need a new concept. Everybody wants to be a “Hub” not a “Spoke”. That is why new EDI implementations have stagnated. Our answer is to turn “Spokes” into “Hubs”.

The concept of the “Hub” is simple. These are the companies who reach out to their trading partners and request those partners to trade electronically. The “Spoke” is the company who “must” trade with the “Hub”. In this configuration, the “Hub” realizes benefits; the “Spoke” does not.

How many companies are currently utilizing EDI? It is a hard question to answer. Does it include FTP and AS2? Are we talking about U.S., North America or global? Several sources agree that about 90% of the fortune 1000 companies currently use EDI. An expert I talked with quoted 160,000 companies. My point is that it is not universal because there are thousands of companies that do not yet use EDI.

Many of the “Spokes” are fairly sophisticated in their EDI skills, but they have become proficient at accommodating their “Hub” partners. They cannot put their whole operation on an electronic commerce basis because they have numerous partners that they still deal with on a manual basis.

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