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Chain of Tools

Chain of Tools

Supply chain visibility is helping Corporate Express ride the fast track to success.

If your raison d'etre is to provide single-sourced supply solutions that make it easier and more cost-effective for your clients to do business, then your primary focus must be stripping costs from both your products and your services. Your competitive edge depends on it.

However, according to Corporate Express CIO Australia Garry Whatley, while most organizations are talking the talk about providing supply chain visibility and targeting costs, Corporate Express is one of relatively few firms walking the walk. Although competitors have been quick to copy Corporate Express's e-business solutions, Whatley says they have not been able to copy the e-business culture that has been the true key to its success. And it is that e-business culture, he believes, along with the high levels of usability it is able to provide, that makes Corporate Express's e-business offerings truly stand out from the rest.

Whatley believes Corporate Express's future success lies in maintaining rapid, efficient control of product information, re-engineering processes to take out costs, providing full visibility into the supply chain while driving costs out there too and stripping costs from the payment side in the interests of customer service. That has been the emphasis for the organization, one of Australia and New Zealand's leading suppliers of office products, since at least the day Whatley took on the role almost four years ago. And Whatley is confident the organization has been making significant strides in areas most companies are still dreaming about.

For instance the company believes product information management - particularly the business of keeping descriptions accurate and compelling - is a core part of its e-business effort and is primary to fulfilling its mission. Whatley says for customers trying to choose between products, or even whether to do business with Corporate Express, high-quality product descriptions are a winner.

In fact in Whatley's book, product information management (PIM) lies at the very heart of all e-business. A meticulous, behind-the-scenes process of product authoring - assisted by Trigo Product Center, which provides a single, centralized source for accurate and detailed product information accessible to all parties in the supply chain - is what really counts in Corporate Express's product description processes. [In early March IBM announced it had agreed to acquire all the shares of Trigo Technologies. -ED]

"Our aim is to have a single source of consistent product information that is complete, appropriate and relevant, that is owned by our suppliers who keep it updated and consistent, which then flows through and is visible on our e-procurement side, is visible on our ERP and also flows through again to our warehouse management systems," Whatley says. "There's still some work we need to do, but what we're trying to do is achieve consistency and currency between systems along the supply chain, so that from a trading point of view there are less issues with inconsistency of product. The issue from my point of view along the whole demand and supply chain is having full visibility and driving cost out."

The issue of product information and compelling, precise product descriptions has been talked about by analysts and in the media for some considerable time - but Whatley believes few organizations have achieved it, and many have yet to begin such efforts. He says despite reports that major retailers are focused on this area, among most CIOs he has spoken to there still seems to be relatively little activity. He believes Corporate Express is way ahead of the pack in other areas of supply chain too.

"Most people are still trying to leverage their ERP [implementations] and get internal benefits," he says. "We're in the process of going back and revisiting the whole ERP question and what we do from an ERP point of view, but that will be in the context of the whole supply/demand chain and it won't just be internally focused, so we're coming around for the next cycle of that.

"What we've found with the B2B side, when it comes to integrating customers' ERPs and our ERP, the biggest issues haven't been technical, they've been aligning business processes."

Whatley claims his organization is also ahead of the curve in the payments area, where he believes some of the greatest opportunities to provide cost savings to customers lie. Most businesses are still focused on ordering and invoicing, he says. Corporate Express has been there, done that, and is actively working with customers to minimize the burden on customers in the accounts payable area by reducing the work involved in matching payments and invoices.

"At the moment there's been a lot of focus on the ordering side and on the invoicing, yet everyone I speak to agrees that we can strip a lot of that payment cost out, if we can get the whole matching-of-order, invoice and the banking side integrated," he says.

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