Favorite Mistakes

Warehousing and distribution aren’t rocket science. They’re harder. Rocket science has set formulas that don’t change. Warehousing and distribution change constantly. Look what happened when Wal-Mart announced its RFID compliance mandate. Then came the Department of Defense. Then Target. Now Albertsons. Some of the suppliers to these giants were just getting the hang of bar codes and warehouse management systems. Now they have to regroup and restrategize. Time to restart the learning curve.

During this learning process, plenty of mistakes will be made — by everybody. That’s good, because it will strengthen the science. Surviving the consequences of these mistakes will be the tough part. I got a taste for how tough when I moderated a panel discussion on logistics execution systems (LES) in Houston recently. The event was produced by the Logistics Execution System Association (LESA), part of Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). Enough acronyms.

What attendees of this event really wanted spelled out for them was how to avoid career-ending mistakes. The best way to discuss this was to list the most common mistakes associated with logistics system implementation. I asked every panel member to come up with one. What follows is the name and title of the panelists and their favorite entry in the mistake sweepstakes:

John Hill, principal of Esync: "The lack of involvement of operating people in defining requirements, assessing alternative solutions and becoming part of the team prior to selection and implementation."

Stanley Chew, director, international operations, HighJump Software: "Trying to buy a system of consequence with a small budget and expecting the vendor to do it all. Shame on the buyer and shame on the vendor who enters that relationship."

Dave Healey, director, account management, Lilly Software Associates: "Not having someone in your company who will champion the project and get upper management support."

Darryl Ferguson, regional sales manager, Psion Teklogix: "Not setting realistic goals and objectives. If you don’t set reasonable goals, you’ll lose faith in the system. It has to evolve, but you must figure in all the environmental factors to make the project a success."

Jeff Marchlewski, regional sales manager, Provia Software: "Lack of training. You need an ongoing training program so as new people come in they learn from someone who has been there. If you have good people who are trained well on the product, you’ll get the most value out of the system."

Janine Renella, logistics consultant, RedPrairie: "Many times information technology managers will make a buying decision that is pushed onto operations managers, or ops managers will make a buying decision that IT can’t implement. There’s no collaboration between the two."

This was followed by a spirited discussion of technology trends. Of course the inevitable topic of RFID came up quickly, and the discussion then turned into a polite debate. One audience member said he believed this technology was being hyped. I asked if he had any plans to at least do a pilot project. The question then followed: With Wal-Mart’s January 2005 deadline fast approaching, is it too late to start a pilot?

"There will be a time when resources start to become scarce," said Jeff Marchlewski. "We’re already starting to be stretched thin. If you have a compliance mandate with Wal-Mart this January and you haven’t seriously begun your search, it’s too late already."

John Hill countered: "It will never be too late to pilot. This technology is as much black art as it is science. Depending on the material to which the tags are applied you’ll get varying performance. Pilot. Should you pilot on January 1, 2005? You bet, if you haven’t taken the time to do so earlier. Until RFID as a technology has been proven and is as ubiquitous as the bar code, you need to pilot."

It was a good morning of discussion. If you’d like to read more about it, go to www.mhmonline.com and click on the story "LES Lessons Learned."

Tom Andel, chief editor, [email protected]

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