On the Same Page

Single-screen technology can make a difference in supply chain management.

By Rahul Mital

Single-screen technology is still a relatively new concept, which is surprising to advocates and those who have seen its benefits in action. It is cost effective, has an impressive documented ROI and is an online digital tool that fosters better lines of communication between geographically disperse decision-making departments. It is ideally suited to environments where effective supply chain management is essential to delivering products and services profitably and on schedule for vendors and end-user customers.

Planning at a Global Level

For companies where supply chain management is critical to the flow of goods and services — large or small, multi-national or local — getting key supply chain departments spread across different locations around the globe on the same page can be a challenge. Avoiding duplication of material or part requisitions, the piling up of excess inventory, reacting in a timely fashion to issues that crop up as a customer orders make their way from raw material to delivery (quality, delayed shipments of vital parts etc.) are just a few of the issues. What’s more, tracking that progress is especially taxing in a global economy, where the players involved may be on opposite sides of the country or the world for that matter. This is where, how and why one screen planning on a digital platform will enable all the key stakeholders to have access and the ability to make a profound difference when it comes to supply chain management.

In this context, here are some key features of single-screen technology for global supply chain planners:

+ A global planner can access all of the planning information (demand, supply, quality, costs) from various geographical locations and different plan outputs into one screen and make key decisions and place orders from that single screen. Often, what may take days or weeks now can occur in minutes with single screen technology.

+ Single-screen applications can also become a teaching tool, helping to foster better inter-department communication and planning efficiency.

+ Planners and buyers can look for resources and materials from hundreds of organizations if necessary, providing they are accessible via the single-screen system. In addition, it’s easier to compare material cost quotes and shipping times.

+ Analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs) including cost, quality and transit times for material shipments is easier and more timely with single screen technology. For a company with operations spread out over hundreds or thousands of miles or with suppliers halfway around the world, communication is more efficient for those employing the single screen concept. In one instance where single screen is being used in the oil and gas production industry off the Texas coast, requisitions, purchase orders, quality documents and bookings that once took weeks to coordinate happened in a matter of minutes.

+ Assembling the budget for a project, analyzing its progress as it reaches certain milestones and preparing reports to be shared on that progress are streamlined and less time consuming when that information can be culled from an integrated digital platform. Compare this to the traditional hours spent pulling up various, isolated reports from unconnected databases and trying to determine what information is essential for budgeting or reporting purposes.

In addition to these key features, single screen provides an additional added benefit. It facilitates a collaborative working environment.

Challenges to Implementing Single-Screen Technology

While there are many benefits to implementing single screen technology, there are obstacles as well. Programs that do not normally interface with each other on the same platform require a software solution so they can communicate in the single screen environment. Currently, there is no single screen turnkey software on the market. Until that changes, the solution involves custom software development.

A second challenge is overcoming the silo mentality within an organization where multiple buyers or planners may feel their part of a project should get top priority. Showing a buyer that the parts needed are available and in stock — albeit in another division and perhaps under a different nomenclature — means a bottom line savings for the company.  Third, change of any kind is often hard for some people to accept and incorporate. It’s human nature to resist the unknown. And with new systems and processes, there is always a learning curve.

Fourth, getting buy in for investing in this technology at the highest management levels is another obstacle. One factor that can help is a comprehensive cost analysis. In most cases, the cost to implement a single screen technology, to write the programs that tie different platforms together, for software licensing and to train who that will use it is relatively small. Case in point: a major international oil and gas production company that spent less than a million dollars to implement single screen technology realized a return of 30 times in cost savings during the first year. Smaller companies will spend less to make the changes needed but should also see a return on their investment within months, if not weeks.

Those savings came from factors like avoiding parts order duplication (cross referencing various part numbers for the same item is one example) and wasted man-hours. In spite of these challenges, in companies where effective supply chain management is critical, it is in the best interest to employ single screen, and eventually single-click technology.

Single-Click Technology 

As single-screen technology continues to evolve, the next step is single-click technology. When the relevant inventory ordering systems are tied together, single-click technology will help in executing supply chain processes automatically within seconds.

The use of this evolving technology will do more to automate the decision-making process in planning at the global level.

Because core planning in the supply management chain is still happening frequently within silos, automated single click technology often is not feasible. Planning, sourcing, purchasing, accounting, inventory, finance and shipping would all benefit and save precious man hours from improved levels of communication with a single screen/single-click approach.

When global cross-pegging (a single planning tool realized on a global level for inventory purposes), then single-screen technology will become more than just a communication tool. By not using a single planning tool methodology, businesses have incurred million dollars in losses (for example, buying the same materials where the supply already exists in another geographical location, but is not visible to planners while executing supply orders.)

Take the Next Step

The relatively new concept of employing global and integrated planning using single-screen technology in supply chain management is a reality in today’s digital online world. Revamping reporting and ordering systems on various software platforms so that they all “talk” to each other requires an initial monetary outlay and perhaps an annual software licensing fee.

The track record for companies that have taken the plunge and invested in single-screen technology shows that payback comes in a relatively short period of time versus upfront investment costs that pale in comparison.

The next step after single screen is “single click.” This is where decisions can be made routinely (and even automatically) based on preset parameters. Simply put, that means having the right inventory at the right location at the right time. Take the first steps now towards this digital reality.

Rahul Mital has more than 16 years’ experience in project management and as a solution architect in supply chain management with Oracle Applications expertise. Currently, he is a project manager and supply chain management specialist. For additional information, please send emails to: rm_erp@yahoo.com.