When Portals Are the Right Answer

May 24, 2016 Simon Hardy

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Portal

In my last BLOG, I mentioned that it will be my 10th anniversary at Elemica on June 1st, 2016. That is ten years of being a Supply Chain Operating Network Evangelist, or SCON(E) for short. I wanted to touch on a few projects that I have engaged in with over the last decade, not the big show stopping projects, but more subtle ones. Don’t think a full blown rib-eye steak, more an assortment of “amuse bouches." Dainty morsels that show how understanding the process and the chemical industry make all the difference.
In my second example, I want to take a scenario I was presented with a few years ago. We were working with a large paints and chemicals company on a supplier management program. They had seen the portal that our tyre companies had been using and wanted to get the benefit of an industry portal. As we were scoping the project they came to me with a new request.
“We want to connect a packaging company and communicate the production details to them."
I had worked with situations like this in bulk chemicals before, in my APCI day for one customer we did not receive volumes, we got the number of diapers (nappies) that the company was creating and we then converted it into product. This demand driven information is manna to product managers and supply chain teams. So I sat down with the client and started talking about transferring data into the packaging companies system. But I got a different answer to the one I expected...
“The business has said, for various process and commercial reasons, we cannot connect to the supplier, it has to be a portal."
To be honest, this made my teeth ache, why on earth would you want a portal when you could have a direct connection. Then the process owners started to explain to me what was really important to them. They wanted two way visibility. They wanted the packaging supplier to see what they were going to produce over the next 14 days. This would come from the Production Actual (PROACT) iDOC straight out of their SAP. In return they wanted to see whether the supplier had ALL of the packaging for a specific run.
If you think about a tin of paint. You need a tin can, a lid, a label on the side, a label on the top, maybe a special offer sticker etc etc. What the packaging company did was provided a service so that all of this was delivered to the production line ahead of a production run. This was where the visibility came into its own. Once the packaging supplier had one of the items, they confirmed it in the portal, turning it from Red to Green. When they had all of the goods for one production run, they then sent a Ship Notice into our clients SAP system from the Portal. This meant that the packaging company knew which items they still needed to get and when they were exactly needed. Also our client could look into SAP to see which PROACT’s had been responded to and also could look into the Portal to see what was the status of any that had not been completely fulfilled.
What this meant was two really important things for our client;
1) They had early visibility on any possible issues and could manage the end customer accordingly
2) They could re-arrange production schedules to maximise the production assets
Historically, this had often happened on the day of production. They realised there was an issue that morning and had to frantically contact customers and try to juggle production, often ending up with production lines being down for a period.
Now we understood the process, we worked with the client to create the view for the suppliers. Our client actually went to our development group in Atlanta, GA and worked with them on storyboards of what was needed. We also went live in parallel with their SAP go-live, allowing for the supplier to start the new process once, rather than having to move to the SAP process, then to the new Elemica set up.
So, with one small Portal project, our client now manages his customer engagement better and uses his plant assets better. Not bad really, which is why I have learned to stop worrying and love the Portal.
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