Giving competitors the boot

In the age of real-time commerce, Web-based tools provide provide improved supply chain efficiencies that help companies such as Timberland and Lucent stomp the competition.
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Yusef Akyuz
Yusef Akyuz, vice president of information services at Timberland Co.

In the age of real-time commerce, Timberland Co. is just one of many firms in a foot race to satiate customers' increasing demand for specialized goods delivered faster and more cheaply than through traditional channels. These requirements are forcing companies in all industries to broaden their perspective to include outside suppliers and key trading partners that can help achieve the necessary efficiencies.

What's needed are real-time, collaborative links with these far-flung partners. As a result, companies like Timberland are turning to a new crop of Web-based supply-chain tools that deliver more efficient connections to external partners than those offered by proprietary systems or traditional client/server offerings. These firms also gain new planning and forecasting capabilities in the bargain.

"Real-time collaboration lets us do better planning [with our retail customers and suppliers] and reduces our lead time in getting product to retailers," explains Yusef Akyuz, vice president of information services for $900 million Timberland, the Stratham, N.H., maker of goods like rugged hiking gear and running shoes.

"The way we've been developing business plans, there's a lot of information communicated via e-mail attachments, faxes and voice mail so there's a lot of data being reentered and a lot of delay built into the process," says Akyuz. Based on the results of an early internal pilot of Manugistics Group Inc.'s Web-based collaborative planning and forecasting tool, NetWorks S/Collaborate, Akyuz anticipates Timberland will reduce its planning cycle from four to six weeks to around a week to 10 days.

While traditional client/server supply-chain management software from companies like Rockville, Md.-based Manugistics and i2 Technologies Inc. of Dallas, has made some inroads helping firms streamline internal operations, the new Web-based tools are making it easier and more cost-effective to include external partners. Through a simple browser interface, a manufacturer could, for example, tap into its suppliers' systems to see if inventory and production capabilities match demand for the manufacturer's products. Thus the manufacturer will be alerted to any potential bottlenecks or backlogs and can work with its suppliers in real time to head off these problems.

Similarly, other Web-based supply-chain components allow partners to collaborate on forecasts in real time or let a company's sales reps tap into suppliers' production schedules and logistics information so they can keep customers abreast of order status. As these new, extended supply chains begin to share critical production, scheduling, inventory, forecasting and logistics information in real time instead of by phone, e-mail or fax, companies can respond more accurately to dynamic customer demand. In addition, the sheer economics of providing this access via a browser instead of through either costly, proprietary systems or more limited electronic data interchange (EDI) software lets companies share critical business information with a greater number of suppliers.


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