Supply Chain Management
When it comes to improving the supply chain function in book publishing, the watchword is communication—between various components of the chain, and especially between manufacturing, distribution and retail. Saying this, however, is not saying nearly enough, as the quality of information and the way it’s used matter just as much as making the right connections.
“Communication is the No. 1 supply chain issue,” says Rich Eby, director of inbound distribution at Thomson Learning, the Stamford, Conn.-based provider of educational, training and reference books for academic and corporate customers.
For Thomson, that means anticipating shipments from manufacturers around the world for distribution in the United States.
“Small efficiencies add up,” notes Eby, citing components of the company’s state-of-the-art distribution center in Kentucky. For example, a voice-controlled system has replaced packing slips and scanning bar codes, creating a hands-free, simplified warehousing process that also makes training new employees easier.
Books are weighed and measured as they come in and placed in the 835,000-square-foot facility based on dimensions and priority. The system controls the flow of stock in the building, including tracking back orders. It can be—and often is—adjusted daily for optimal efficiency.
In terms of technology and procedure, Thomson’s distribution process is closely tied to manufacturing.
“We make [manufacturers] live up to our standards,” says Joe Steffney, vice president of North American distribution. Each supplier must conform to an order-tracking system; books come in as finished products based on Thomson’s specs and are standardized in the way they are packaged.
The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) believes the entire industry would benefit from this type of standardization. The association is working to eliminate the practice of dual identification (EAN and UPC) on books and improve communication between manufacturers, publishers and retailers by developing universal ship notices and carton labels. The group also would improve the quality of warehouse performance through annual benchmarking.