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I just returned from a great evening at a new local restaurant that opened in West Seattle. The place has only been open three weeks and was already enjoying a great deal of patronage on a notoriously unpopular weekday night for dining out. The menu was relatively small but incredibly eclectic, everything from Middle Eastern dishes to lamb shank, crab cakes and almond and honey glazed prawns on skewers. We were tempted by the crab cakes but my partner was hesitant as she has an allergy to blue crab and there were no guarantees that the red rock crab that was supposedly in these crab cakes was not as toxic for her. So we skipped the crab cakes but nonetheless had some wonderful culinary delights. Of particular interest is the fact that barely a week ago a friend told me that he had gone to this same restaurant and had an unpleasant experience. It would be easy to dismiss the comment on the grounds that he is a fussy gastronome or perhaps had unsatisfactory dining company but it is probably more likely that it simply wasn’t one of his usual haunts and in fact he is a bit of a downtown or east-side snob. I guess every city has it’s bright lights element and he is a bright lights moth, and West Seattle simply didn’t cut it for him. I respect him for trying it though, and though he probably will never go there again, I certainly will and I am glad I didn’t take any notice of his comments.

This leads me to the notion of sharing experience and being an advocate for doing things differently. These days, when people feel vulnerable in the workplace or on risk because of the seemingly endless list of business collapses it is easier to continue to do things the way we have always done them rather than think ‘outside the box’, fill in the blanks for whatever curious colloquialism you might like to use to describe this resistance to change. Essentially what I am talking about is the idea of reevaluating your work practices.

Older or long established companies with long tenured staff are particularly renowned for the uses of the concept of “if it aint broke don’t fix it” yet this is premised on the thought that what you’re doing is in fact working. The idea that not working implies broken is surely flawed for sometimes something not working sometimes means that the environment or playing field has changed. A well that does not pump water may not in fact be broken; the problem may be that the pump shaft may not be deep enough or that the water table has receded. So too with business and in particular with supply chain operations, old practiced methods of sourcing and procurement have changed radically from as recently as a decade ago.

Whilst the automotive and aviation industries did a great deal of pioneering work on global sourcing, the rest of commerce and industry seems to have lagged a little but today global sourcing is pretty much a consistent work practice for most large operations in almost every industry segment. As a consequence of this type of supply chain management practice there is a great deal more data flying around the systems of the world and in many instances this information is hosted in a dizzying array of data repositories. Everything from shared drives, local drives, email boxes and SAP and other ERP systems host everything from contracts through requisitions, orders, schedules and agreements. Even for the most agile of supply chain managers, it is a tough job keeping track of it all. Just today I was talking to a leading global pharma company and exploring some of these challenges and how they cope with them. Whilst we are all a long off from solving all this fragmentation and complexity there are a few simple fundamentals that business can put in place to ease the burden of the overall process; that’s if people set in their ways are willing to listen. A fundamental, is having some sort of document governance and trying to move away from the dependence on email attachments and the notorious instability of PST files for example. Fragmented data endangers the effectiveness of supply chain operations.

Dumping emails with attachments in an offline PST is so easy that has become almost an addiction amongst some of the supply chain managers. Those I have talked to even admit though, that this habit is largely driven by the mail administrator forcing restrictions on mailbox size. While the Windows 7 operating system has progressed in leaps and bounds with comprehensively indexing every conceivable document type in the windows file structure including emails in PST’s the fact remains that this is indexed, and yes, searchable, but it is only local and therefore not part of the collective knowledge repository of a well oiled supply chain operation. Aggregation on shared folders or in library systems like sharepoint or in fact in the SAP ERP are the correct home for this key information. Getting the information into these systems can be challenging but there are a number of desktop to SAP integration tools to help with this process including transaction automation tools that work directly with the data in MS Excel. These tools even support the loading of electronic reference documents like contracts that you might wish to attach to your SAP system and it’s transactions.

You may be interested to hear some comments directly from a supply chain manager to corroborate these ideas. If you are, you might like to know that he will be speaking at an upcoming webinar on this topic. Alan Thimot, Manager of Purchasing & Inventory Management at TELUS, will share his first hand knowledge on how to tackle complex SAP SCM business processes, and how to enable business users in manufacturing, logistics and supply chain to work with SAP SCM directly from Microsoft Excel, without programming – saving TELUS time and money. In addition I would like to tell you that a team of my colleagues and I will be attending SCM2010 in Orlando later this month and we would love to hear some of your experiences and hear your challenges with breaking out of the current prevailing mindset of doing SCM and in particular SCM master data and transaction processing with SAP, the way it has always been done in the past.   

 
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