Automation to Cut Supply Chain's Weakest Link
Since paper is central to their business, it is understandable that book publishers have become very comfortable in continuing to use a paper trail to document transactions with suppliers. But the reliance on printing and scanning invoices, inventory status reports and receiving statements instead of completely moving to electronic communications has perpetuated a number of unnecessary business practices that should be treated as dead wood.
However, most 20th century supply chain management practices and proprietary technologies will soon be filed under "H" for history. New XML-based standards for sending documents (called messages in the electronic age lingo) are beginning to revolutionize how publishers and suppliers exchange information. Moving to Web-based transactions will reduce the cost of production and provide real-time information that allows publishers to more effectively allocate resources.
A LEGACY OF COMPLEXITY
Publishers currently use a mishmash of paper documents and legacy electronic systems to interact with their suppliers. Because of the cost involved in developing proprietary electronic solutions, the level of automation used in tracking inventory and confirming transactions has largely depended on the financial resources available to publishers, as well as their own willingness to embrace technology.
Many of the supply chain management activities still require a component of manual data entry for processing communications, including purchase orders, acknowledgement of goods received, and shipping instructions. Publishers who have integrated Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) systems into their supply chain during the past few decades are still required to reconcile data formats and agree on a standard language with each new supplier, as EDI does not mandate standards for describing publishing's supply chain transactions.
"I would love it if EDI just went away," says Marty Brown, the IT manager for Timber Press, a Portland, Ore., publisher of books about gardening and horticulture. Brown, who described her company as middle of the road in embracing technology, says her infrastructure for communicating with suppliers "uses bailing wire and duct tape" to function.