The Simple Approach
Lincoln says that Stryker's approach in searching for a solution to meet its requirements was to look for a tool that would address the specific objectives the company had in mind, enabling inventory visibility and real-time communications with suppliers to establish a workable VMI process. "We didn't want to revamp everything that we were doing, we just needed to get better and quicker at communicating," Lincoln explains.
After reviewing its options with its suppliers, all parties agreed that the best choice was a solution called i-Supply from TradeBeam, a San Mateo, Calif.-based software company offering a suite of supply chain applications that address the end-to-end procure-to-pay cycle, including inventory management. Simplicity was a key selling point for the TradeBeam solution, according to Lincoln. "It was very intuitive to use, and it just made sense," he says. "It wasn't a big ERP project. There wasn't going to be a half-year or year- long implementation, and it met our particular needs in terms of inventory visibility and real-time communication."
The TradeBeam solution provides the company's suppliers with real-time inventory consumption, forecast and shipping data, as well as visibility into their supply chain interactions with Stryker. Suppliers can use a Web browser to communicate advanced shipping notices (ASNs) and promise-to-ship information to Stryker as well. And TradeBeam's solution provides alerts to supply chain participants, allowing for more proactive, exception-based management of the supply chain.
Rolling out the New Process
Stryker signed the contract with TradeBeam in the fourth quarter of 2000, went through system setup and training for in-house staff and suppliers by the end of the year, and went live in January 2001 with a pilot program that lasted through April of that year. As the company rolled the solution out to its broader supply base during the pilot, Lincoln and his team went site to site around the supply chain to introduce vendors to the new process, spending a half-day or day with each supplier to ensure that they were onboard with the solution.
A few suppliers did express some initial concern that implementing TradeBeam might actually make their job harder because the system called for exchanging much more information with Stryker. "But," Lincoln says, "once we got them fully trained and they really understood it, they absolutely embraced it and didn't want to get rid of it." Stryker did wind up taking a couple suppliers off the system temporarily because they were unable to assimilate the new solution into their processes and learn the solution's functionality at the initial pace that Stryker had set. However, additional training ameliorated these difficulties, and Stryker eventually brought those suppliers back into the system.
Here again, the good relations that Stryker had built with its suppliers were an asset that the company was able to tap into as it drove the rapid, widespread adoption of the solution. "If we hadn't had that relationship and instead just tried to force them to use a new program, I don't think we would have been as successful implementing this with our suppliers," Lincoln says.
Internally, the only issue that arose within Stryker stemmed from the rapid implementation pace that the company has set for the project. The foreshortened timetable got the solution up and running quite quickly, but subsequent to the go-live Stryker went back and made various modifications to the system, which meant additional work for the company's information technology staff and TradeBeam's project staff. "We might have spent a little bit longer in the set-up phase trying to think of all the different scenarios and ways that we could use this tool, and all the information we wanted to pull from our ERP system into TradeBeam," Lincoln admits. "But the flipside of that is that every day we might have spent trying make it perfect before we implemented it would have been costing us money. There's a fine line between spending all the time out front and getting it perfect versus implementing it and fixing it later but getting the benefit of it right away."