To streamline this process, K2 Sports' IT team used Visual Basic in Excel to build a tool that could export the PO information into an XML file, which, through Epicor's iConnect solution, can then be uploaded into Avanté. The next stages of the initiative will involve sending the POs to the company's suppliers using the Excel template, having K2 Sports' subsidiaries adopt the template for communicating information back to the U.S. headquarters, and then passing out the XML file specifications so that the suppliers can provide K2 Sports with files to be loaded directly into the Avanté system. "The end goal," Harley says, "is to automate the PO process so that we can have our vendors updating their delivery schedules automatically." As the process becomes increasingly automated, K2 Sports' planners will be able to spend more time reviewing and communicating PO changes rather than doing data entry chores. And as the information in the Avanté system becomes increasingly close to real time and increasingly accurate, K2 Sports' CSRs should be able to provide customers with increasingly accurate delivery dates.
Best Practices for the Mid-market
Is what's good for the tier-one goose also good for the mid-market gander? Industry observers appear to agree that, generally speaking, best practices applied among large enterprises can be as effective, or even more so, among mid-tier companies.
For example, Forrester's Navi Radjou points out that best practices around improved demand visibility can benefit any organization, regardless of size, but for those midsize companies further upstream in the supply community, the "bullwhip effect" whereby the impact of demand variability reverberates up the supply chain, growing in strength from tier to tier makes having good visibility into demand signals more important for tier-two companies. The solution that a mid-market company might apply to improve its visibility need not be overly complex, Radjou adds, suggesting that a simple customer portal to collect orders, or even just an improved demand forecasting process using spreadsheets, could be sufficient in a make-to-stock environment. In an engineer-to-order environment, on the other hand, the solution might be a basic tool for collecting requests for proposals from customers, as well as a streamlined process for rapidly responding to customer requests. "And that means having a workflow in place that connects the sales guys to engineering, sourcing and manufacturing so that they can quickly find out what resources are needed, come up with a price and then respond to the customer," Radjou adds.
As for the success factors crucial to supply and demand chain transformation at mid-market enterprises, the practitioners interviewed for this article cited best practices that would be familiar to any executive leading a change initiative at a large enterprise. For instance, Freudenberg-NOK's Gill points to high-level sponsorship as a top priority. "Executive commitment is key," he says, "not just to get the money, but to make sure that when you put in a system, it gets used." Gill also suggests that a dedicated project manager or project team is necessary at all stages of an initiative to implement and sell the project and to provide support after the implementation to ensure internal customer satisfaction and adoption.
Clearly mid-market companies with an eye on the future are continuing to develop their capabilities to remain competitive in an economy that is becoming increasingly punishing for those unwilling to "adapt, improvise, overcome" (to quote an old Clint Eastwood movie). In a world where the customer remains, to a large extent, king, mid-market leaders are looking to leverage their slim resources not only to drive greater efficiencies but also to make themselves more invaluable to their client base. As Radjou says, "Overall, the focus should be on how quickly or how flexibly you can respond to customer requirements, because cost-efficiency will no longer save you."
SIDEBAR: How Tech Savvy Is the Mid-market?
Are mid-market companies as sophisticated as tier-one enterprises in their expectations for how they can benefit from new technologies? Jay Baitler thinks they are. Baitler, executive vice president at Staples Contract, suggests that while expectations around technology typically arise first among the top tier, Fortune 1000 companies, those expectations "migrate" downstream to mid-tier companies over time. In addition, Baitler believes that the Internet has helped accelerate that "expectation migration" for solution providers that can make their offerings available over the Web. "The service offering, the technology offering, or the value-add or shared value that you offer for a Fortune 1000 company now is, within the past year, not wholly differentiated from the value proposition that mid-market customers expect," he says.
Baitler points to Staples' own experience with its online offering through Staples Contract. When Staples established B2B online presence a few years ago, its online customer base skewed essentially entirely to the Fortune 1000. Now roughly 40 percent of its online business is among the top-tier companies, while the remaining 60 percent comes from mid-market companies.