Multi-Facility Data Aggregation — Your Key to Success in Wide Distribution Markets

As any manufacturer can attest, a wide distribution network means working with a variety of regional or third-party distribution centers to provide clients with quality products in a timely manner. While this brings flexibility that allows manufacturers to keep products on store shelves or deliver shipments to clients quickly, it can also spell frustration for the manufacturer. With product inventory and shipment information stored in various warehouse management software systems at different distribution centers, manufacturers who can't quickly access supply chain information lose the ability to make informed decisions that help their organizations thrive.

Multi-facility data aggregation provides total visibility of inventory and supply chain transaction data across any number of distribution centers, no matter their physical location or chosen warehouse management system. Unfortunately, few small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have the time and resources needed to build their own custom system that can retrieve, translate, compile and deliver this critical information. Left to enter the data manually onto a spreadsheet and distribute it to decision makers, the information is outdated almost as soon as it's in the right hands. The constant, ever-changing nature of supply chains ensures that.

Forward-thinking software companies have stepped up to fill the gap, building, supporting and maintaining hosted software with multi-facility data aggregation functionality that can interact with any warehouse management system a customer desires. Outsourcing this fundamental task to a technology provider levels the playing field, giving manufacturers and their distribution center providers the information they need to drive their business, at a substantially lower investment than they might imagine.

What's in MFDA for Me?

To understand why multi-facility data aggregation is so important to manufacturers, let's take a closer look at a situation in which a company would benefit from its use. Suppose a retail location in Memphis is low on stock of a date-sensitive product and needs to order more immediately. Typically, this vendor is serviced out of the Kansas City warehouse. But product in the Denver warehouse is nearing its expiration date. Given the ability to quickly see this reality, the distribution manager might send this particular shipment from Denver, paying a slightly higher shipping cost to avoid letting product go bad on the warehouse shelves. Without the ability to see the broad inventory situation across different distribution channels, chances are good the product from Kansas City would go to Memphis while the product in Denver spoils.

Multiplied many times over for many products delivered to various retail locations over weeks and months, the inability to make business-sensitive decisions like this means one thing: lower margins for the manufacturer. A company that does not have the information it needs to make timely decisions that positively impact the bottom line will end up suffering. These decisions arise daily in the form of inventory level alerts and product recalls. Without accurate, up-to-date inventory information, a manufacturer may not even be able to locate a recalled product, let alone get it off retail shelves to ensure customer safety. A visibility system with multi-facility data aggregation functionality can help companies reduce their inventories, while proactively improving supply chain efficiency and performance.

On the flip side of the distribution coin, third-party logistics (3PL) providers without their own network of centers can partner with other 3PLs to meet the needs of manufacturers with a national presence. They face the same challenges connecting multiple warehouses throughout the country that don't always share the same WMS software system.

To Build or Not To Build?

Custom-built visibility systems with multi-facility data aggregation features translate the key data from a variety of warehouse management systems into a format that is useable by the manufacturer and distributer, compiling information to build custom reports. Some companies take on the task of building this software themselves, along with the time commitment and cost that comes with it. Without the financial resources and an IT talent pool to draw from, others shuffle along, manually entering information into spreadsheets that are outdated by the time they're delivered.

There is another choice. Warehouse management software companies that recognize the benefit of multi-facility data aggregation for its customers have developed software as a system (SaaS) options where an application is hosted across the Internet. By eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer's own computer, SaaS alleviates the customer's burden of software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support.

In the end, the SaaS your company chooses can free your employees to make better, more strategic business decisions. From better control of inventory levels to better information with which to assist your customers, multi-facility data aggregation gives you full visibility of the entire supply chain in a single centralized solution. By automating the delivery of supply chain information, employees' responsibilities shift from monitoring levels and shipment information to strategically acting on this information to proactively improve supply chain efficiency and performance. An SaaS solution can provide even small manufacturers and distributers with the powerful capabilities of professional data aggregation functionality so they can provide the same customer service to clients as the big guys without anywhere near the investment. Your company will be more nimble and more ready to make decisions that will positively affect your bottom line. Choose wisely, and an SaaS with strong multi-facility data aggregation features can take your company to the next level.

About the Author: Joe Caston is an executive leader with 22 years of experience in the data networking and software industries. He is president and chief executive officer of Cadre Technologies, a provider of supply chain management software for the warehouse, fulfillment, logistics and manufacturing industries. For more information, visit Cadre's Web site at www.cadretech.com or call 866-252-2373.

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