Automation to Cut Supply Chain's Weakest Link
Brown says maintaining Timber Press' EDI system was so complicated that the company decided to outsource the function a few years ago. "EDI in some ways is no more than rudimentary e-mail."
XML TO THE RESCUE
Fortunately for publishers (and their beleaguered IT staffs), a newly minted set of messaging standards is available to streamline managing the supply chain. Based on the extensible markup language (XML) that is rapidly becoming the lingua franca of electronic commerce for nearly every industry, XML book industry transaction standards (XBITS) provides formatting information and transaction language for nearly every type of exchange between publisher and supplier.
XBITS was developed under the auspices of PapiNet, an international standards body for the paper industry, and IDEAlliance, a group developing standards for the publishing industry. Diane Degener, information services manager at book manufacturing and services company Von Hoffmann and a chair of the XBITS working group at IDEAlliance, says the standard includes information for describing every part of a book, including the cover, body and inserts such as CDs.
Publishers who work with suppliers that have implemented XBITS will be able to track inventory location and see transactions in near real time. Instead of waiting for faxed or e-mailed copies of receiving statements or purchase orders to be entered into their supply chain software, the standardized information is automatically accepted into their data stream.
"It will greatly reduce the cost of transactions by eliminating paperwork, and eliminate many of the errors from re-keying data," Degener says. "Having access to inventory information in real time is going to be so much better than what you can do today."
Degener says that publishers have been slow to adopt XBITS because many have been focused on upgrading their internal systems. She says companies can migrate to using XBITS data in stages because the well-structured information can be read by any XML-aware application, such as a Web browser.