Most technology products associated with supply chain target the execution side, according to H. Donald Ratliff, executive director of The Logistics Institute at Georgia Tech (www.tli.gatech.edu). Software and hardware products offer help in areas such as supply chain optimization, quickly analyzing issues like how to get it into a country or how many distribution centers are needed. Technology products can determine the optimal location and size of facilities based on the tradeoffs between inventory and transportation costs.
"Technology helps people make intelligent decisions," notes Ratliff.
Once the strategic decisions are made, tactical decisions make it happen — determining when to order, how much, where to source, or how to ship.
Execution level planning — the day-to-day decisions — include product to deliver today, how to organize it for delivery, what goes on the truck.
"Execution technology keeps up with what transactions have taken place," explains Ratliff. "A warehouse management system (WMS) knows what's in the warehouse and where. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) program keeps up with transactions. Add visibility technology — electronic capture methods such as radio frequency identification (RFID), bar code, messaging — and you know exactly where the goods are."
Execution technology brings value through reducing labor, Ratliff adds. "Instead of having a person with a pencil keep track, the technology does it. And it does it with better accuracy, real time. People are simply getting better at sharing information. Software and computer networks are the capability that ties it all together."