BI in Action

Michael Dortch

The Warehouse: Where Much Business Intelligence is Stored

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A single warehouse can be a monstrously massive management challenge, on multiple levels simultaneously. Goods, vehicles, conveyor belts, people, hardware, software - a massive juggling act on a good day.

Therefore a great crucible and proving ground for business processes, and a great source of "real-life" business intelligence (BI). Which I'm defining as "knowledge that helps to improve business operations in credibly demonstrable and measurable ways."

In this context, a single warehouse can be a treasure trove of actionable intelligence focused on getting orders fulfilled and goods in and out the door, metaphorically and otherwise. So imagine what one could learn - and what one really needs to know - to manage East and West coast US facilities. Or to ship more than 3 million unique orders containing more than 40 million items , many with localized and personalized messaging, to thousands of locations worldwide. Then, imagine managing all of this effectively with manual, human-driven tools and processes.

Welcome to Synq Solutions, a provider of marketing, merchandising, and training solutions from literature fulfillment and campaign measurement to on-demand production and delivery of regulatory compliance documents for financial services providers. And the company that, when faced with the above challenges, decided to take a more technology-enabled approach.

Synq implemented a warehouse management system (WMS), Latitude from PathGuide Technologies. Latitude basically automates warehousing and distribution operations, from receiving and order picking to generation of manifests and management of routes and stops for delivery trucks. Latitude also provides real-time, online information about inventory and order status.

These features let Synq's warehouse managers and staff do more work more efficiently, with far fewer human-introduced mistakes and inconsistencies. The company could handle significantly more order volume almost immediately after implementing Latitude. And greater visibility into accurate, timely inventory and order information lets the company deliver better customer service, by delivering more orders on time and answering questions about orders more accurately and rapidly.

When Synq needed to improve handling of so-called promotional orders, a key element of the company's business, PathGuide worked with Synq to develop a hybrid manual-automated approach using Latitude. The combination of manual picking with automated fulfillment and inventory management let Synq improve operations related to promotional orders, without imposing onerous training requirements or costs.

Overall, since 2004, Synq executives reckon that PathGuide and Latitude have helped Synq to improve on-time order completion to 99.99%, while expanding capacity as much as five times over previous all-manual systems. Oh, and the company has improved customer satisfaction and employee productivity, while enjoying estimated cost savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. And because Latitude integrates seamlessly with Synq's enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution of choice, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Synq's getting more value out of both solutions, while positioning itself well for future growth and new BI initiatives.

What have we learned? The more you spend on making current things work and interoperate, the less you can spend on things like business intelligence. The more productivity you can inculcate throughout your value chain, from the factory, retail, and/or warehouse floor to the executive suite, the more you can take business advantage of the information generated by your business.

Also, most good systems generate and support metrics that have immediate business value, before they get integrated with larger systems. For example, a good warehouse management system tells you a lot about in-the-warehouse performance, providing ample opportunities to improve in-the-warehouse efficiencies. Anything that increases visibility of any critical element of your business value chain is a potentially significant contributor to your BI efforts.

Now, your company may not own, operate, or even interact with any warehouses. But there are still some valuable lessons at Synq for you, too. Perhaps the most important is to recognize that whether they're formally documented and enforced or now, your business and its BI efforts run on processes - and processes can always be improved. The first steps toward improvement, though, include visibility, documentation, acknowledgment, and consensus among key stakeholders. Listening to what those stakeholders and incumbent processes and results tell you, learning from that listening, and leveraging that knowledge to improve processes and supporting solutions is a pretty sure path toward a more intelligent business. As I may have said previously.

If you've got a BI success story, or even/especially a less positive experience with BI, let me know. If I can extract value from or add value to said story, I'd love to share it with those of you reading my ramblings. Thanks in advance!

1 Comment

Global recession accompanied with growing competition among businesses has forced various firms and organizations to squeeze their budget. This has lead to reduction in investment for business enhancement technology. But it is necessary for these companies and firms to realize that recession is a great time to give priority to investment in technology that can help their business to overcome the impact of recession and lead to the organization’s growth in future.
Peter s. Thomas
business intelligence software

Globalization, shrinking business cycles, and increasing competitive pressures are placing demands on business managers to make faster and better decisions. Managers require both real-time visibility into their business operations and sophisticated analytical tools to help them navigate the increasingly fast paced and complex business environment.

Michael Dortch

Michael Dortch is a veteran information entrepreneur and information technology (IT) industry analyst, consultant, speaker, writer, evangelist and provocateur. He has been striving to empower buyers, sellers and users of IT solutions since 1979. Seriously! ;-)

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more

Madan Sheina

Madan Sheina is principal analyst within Ovum's Software Applications group and is based in Northern California.

Madan has fifteen years' experience working in the IT industry both as an analyst and a journalist. His research covers a range of information management technologies, with a sharp focus on business intelligence, knowledge management and data integration software.

Madan is well respected in the IT industry for his clear, incisive and no-nonsense analysis style. He has advised leading ISVs on market positioning and product development strategy, IT users on product evaluation and selection, and the financial investment community on technology trends. View more

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