How inexpensive would a supply chain software application have to be before you would give it a try, not knowing whether it would really meet your requirements?
For Tim Markley, the answer to that question was $2.99.
That's what it cost Markley for an application to help run a warehouse management solution on the key new piece of hardware in his company's warehouse.
The hardware? The Apple iPad.
Growing into Distribution
Markley is president of Markley Enterprises, a family-owned, full-service company, in business since 1962, that specializes in the design, production and distribution of sales and marketing support products such as point-of-purchase displays, trade show displays, large format graphics and similar products. Always looking for new and innovative ways to expand the business, about 10 years ago, the Elkhart, Ind.-based company moved from being strictly a manufacturer into operating as a distributor for its customers, too.
"It was kind of like, in the middle of manufacturing, we decided to be a distributor, and those are two very different things," Markley says. "But we felt that we needed to try it out — and it turned out to be really a big advantage for us because we were connected to the inventory, we got to see the usage, we could schedule the way we wanted to, to carry the proper amount of inventory."
Five years ago, with a number of Markley Enterprises' larger customers taking advantage of its distribution services, the company built a separate facility to handle that side of its business. To run the distribution operation, Markley initially extended its proprietary manufacturing system and adapted it to do distribution, a solution that worked for a time. But as technology evolved and customers began asking Markley to provide capabilities like inventory visibility, access to orders and tracking functionality, the company sought out a more specialized solution.
Moving to On-demand
Markley says that in looking for a warehouse management system (WMS) to run his company's operation, he wanted a solution that would put the minimal burden on his internal IT resources. "I've worked with enough of the installed type of system to know that if you're going to go that route, you're probably going to take on an IT responsibility, and I didn't really find that to be appealing," he says. An alternative that he did find appealing, however, was an on-demand inventory management system offered by San Francisco-based SmartTurn, which was acquired in May of this year by Wisconsin-based RedPrairie.
SmartTurn has been an innovator in bringing full-strength warehouse management to "the Cloud," offering receiving and put away, inventory control, order fulfillment, shipping and purchasing functionality accessed through the Web on any Internet-connected computer. On-demand applications in general have won growing acceptance in the mid-market and beyond, including with large enterprises, for their inherently light IT "footprint" within a company's four walls, and that was certainly a key decision factor for Markley. But he says that the SmartTurn/RedPrairie solution's ability to handle multiple tenants within a single warehouse, providing each customer with visibility to their inventory while shielding other customers' data, was also an important factor.
In addition, the decision to go with an on-demand solution enabled Markley Enterprises to avoid moving away from its Apple Mac-centric computer base. "We're heavily into the graphic arts end because of our products, and so we've always been more of a Macintosh-based system than we have been PCs," Markley explains. "When we saw the on-demand inventory system, because it was all browser-based, it took the platform part out of the equation — as long as you could access the Internet, you were in business."
Enter the iPad