This Week in Logistics News (January 21-25, 2013)

It’s been a brutally cold week, so grab a blanket and something hot to drink, and let’s go straight to this week’s news.

Another week, another mobility-related announcement from a supply chain and logistics software vendor. Infor announced an enhanced version of Infor Supply Chain Execution (SCE), “with more than 100 new core industry features, including mobile and voice enablement, visual metrics, and ION integration to ERP.” Here are a couple of excerpts from the press release:

Warehouse Director – SCE 10.2 features an innovative iPad app called Warehouse Director, which provides managers with a real-time view of warehousing activities from a simple and easy-to-use mobile platform. The app contains a color-coded metrics panel to better visualize management of incoming and outgoing workloads. The location panel is equipped with inventory heat maps and zoom-able overviews of the warehouse floor. These features let users monitor critical functions such as: expected work volume, location queries and inventory information at a glance, while still maintaining the flexibility to work from a remote location.

 

Voice Activated Control – SCE 10.2 is equipped with voice capabilities to allow users a hands-free approach for interaction within the supply chain. Operators are able to perform tasks such as picking, cycle management and replenishment using only voice-activated commands, adding a new level of control and convenience to enhance operational efficiency.

The bottom line: The iPad is replacing the clipboard, and eventually your voice will become the preferred way to interact with enterprise software programs.

On the connectivity front, HighJump added new enhancements to itsTrueCommerce® EDI solution. According to the press release, “users will now experience one-click access to a ‘dashboard’ view highlighting the history and tasks completed for each EDI transaction through the new transaction history feature.” The solution has built-in reporting features that “enable users without technical knowledge to generate a wide range of pre-built and custom reports in their choice of graphical formats directly from Transaction Manager. Detailed tabular and graphical reports can easily be created based on trading partner, document type or activity.”

As I have mentioned in the past, B2B connectivity is not a sexy topic, and the technical details are lost on most people, but it’s a critical piece of the IT puzzle. The question is whether companies should continue to invest in creating and maintaining their own connectivity networks or should they access it as a service instead, like they do with electricity, telephone service, or any other utility. I am biased toward the latter approach, and I shared my reasons why yesterday on my talk show where I discussed the rise of Supply Chain Operating Networks.

The key takeaway is that when it comes to enabling supply chain processes, companies are starting to realize that software is not enough, and they are beginning to focus more on their supply chain connectivity capabilities and options. Similarly, software providers are paying more attention to connectivity too, as evidenced by the acquisitions and partnerships that have occurred in recent years (e.g., IBM acquiring Sterling Commerce, SAP acquiring Crossgate, Oracle partnering with E2open, HighJump acquiring TrueCommerce). Simply put, if you are a supply chain and logistics software vendor and connectivity is not part of your strategy and offering (either directly or via partnerships), then you will find yourself at a competitive disadvantage moving forward.

Walmart and Apple continue to step of their efforts to ensure that their suppliers — especially second and third tier ones — are complying with their labor, safety, and environmental policies. Here are some excerpts from a Wall Street Journal article on Walmart’s new “zero tolerance” policy:

Starting March 1, Wal-Mart will employ a “zero tolerance” policy to sever ties with suppliers that subcontract work to factories without the retailer’s knowledge; Its previous “three-strike” policy gave suppliers three chances to comply with Wal-Mart’s safety requirements.

 

Wal-Mart also will begin publishing on its corporate website later this year the names of factories that aren’t authorized to do business with its suppliers, “to require more accountability and transparency, so there is no way a supplier can say, ‘Oh we didn’t know,’ ” Mr. Kamalanathan [Wal-Mart’s vice president of ethical sourcing] said.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Apple “stepped up audits of working conditions at major suppliers last year, discovering multiple cases of underage workers, discrimination and wage problems.” Here are some excerpts from the article:

[Apple] said on Thursday it conducted 393 audits, up 72 percent from 2011, reviewing sites where over 1.5 million workers make its gadgets.

 

In an interview on Thursday, Apple senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams said the company has increased its efforts to solve two of the most challenging issues – ensuring there are no under aged workers in its supply chain and limiting working hours to 60 hours a week.

 

While child labor reflected a small percentage of the workforce, Apple is now investigating its smaller suppliers – which typically supply parts to larger suppliers and hence face less oversight on such issues – to bring them into compliance, sometimes even firing them.

The key takeaway here is that “I didn’t know” is no longer an acceptable answer when issues arise with suppliers. Having more visibility and control of your extended supply chain not only prevents or minimizes compliance issues, it also enables you to better understand the risks in your supply chain, and to be more agile and responsive when disruptions occur.

Finally, while I don’t normally comment on awards, Transplace’s announcement this week caught my attention. The company announced that it was ranked fifth on Chief Executive magazine’s 2013 “Best Private Company for Leaders” list for its investments in talent and leadership development. Last October, in one of the most read postings we published last year, I discussed what I called the most significant problem facing 3PLs and shippers: a shortage of supply chain and logistics talent. One of my predictions for 2013 was that we will see more programs and partnerships in the industry to address this talent shortage problem, and Transplace’s efforts in this area are a good example.

Have a great weekend!

Song of the Week: “San Francisco” by The Mowgli’s.

(Note: Descartes, HighJump Software, Infor, Oracle, SAP, and Transplace are ARC clients and/or Logistics Viewpoints sponsors)