Nov. 1, 2001
2001 has been a roller coaster for companies trying to keep control of operations, whether it be dealing with cautious buyers or terrorists.


For businesses trying to maintain control, 2001 has certainly been a challenge. Companies have been tossed about by factors no piece of hardware or software can direct. The most obvious and difficult factor, of course, is that of human behavior —whether it’s working with cautious customers or scheming fanatics.

Last year’s problems seem fairly simple by comparison. A year ago, for example, energy shortages due to deregulation and poor legislative planning were an issue. Now, threats to the power grid involve cyberterrorism through the Internet, which should concern everyone. The dot-com meltdown initially was viewed more as a failed business experiment. But its repercussions have put quite a crimp in the progress of many supply chains — a tool business needs to cope with material supply issues.

Now more than ever we need the best possible controls, software and systems vendors can develop. Are controls and systems vendors up to the new challenges? Many of you may answer in the affirmative, but a bit cautiously. This year’s new features and capabilities showed that vendors knew how to jump on a bandwagon. The focus on ease of use was long overdue. And the quality of software and communication has only recently become a large issue.

But businesses have been living with a record market expansion and good times. It‘s been easy to take a lot for granted.

Now, there are new issues to handle.

Material handling managers must ask some tough questions, and you will be looking to controls and software programs to provide many of the answers. For example, do you increase inventory — just in case of additional catastrophic events? What’s the optimum level of inventory to have on hand for such a possibility? And how will that affect your budgets?

How much should or must you spend to provide security for material handling systems, keeping in mind that this spent money won’t contribute to profitability? Where’s the most bang for your buck?

What can go wrong with delivery, with shipments and with resources? Who can provide back-up at a moment’s notice and what relationships should you establish to ensure continuous supply?

Control is no longer as easily guaranteed. The new world is forcing us to deal with uncertainty, because we can’t eliminate it. This is where managing rises to new levels.

These changes, though, are really opportunities. With each crisis, progress emerges, giving us greater control over that which we had little control.

You’ve already wrung out many inefficiencies through the use of controls and systems. The new challenges offer an opportunity to find and eliminate even more. For example, software vendors are already at work developing new algorithms to find the right amount of inventory to hold, even in just-in-case scenarios. Overall, you can expect new features that deal with today’s new realities, enabling you to deal with and take advantage of uncertainty rather than just eliminate it. And this can open new opportunities for growth.

Leslie Langnau

senior technical editor

[email protected]

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