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Inbound Efficiency –Can it be Just a Click Away?



We all know the challenges associated with managing the receiving function. Traditional paper-based appointment scheduling or even the spreadsheet based appointment scheduling leaves the receiving manager simultaneously juggling several roles.

That of the scheduling magician trying to accommodate multiple carriers with a multitude of unloading time requirements which could be handled by either taking one's best guess on unloading time needed or providing everyone with two-hour appointment windows.

That of the in-house clairvoyant, the person who is told that carrier ABC wants a Monday morning appoint to deliver purchase order number 656 with no information offered regarding product temperature requirements.

"The software assists the scheduling manager with maximizing their in-bound dock capacity."
That of the soother receiving a steady stream of calls from anxious buyers who are trying to determine if the load that they are concerned about has come into the warehouse. That of the all knowing manpower scheduler to address the workflow requirements with less than optimal control over whether the carriers will show up or cancel their appointments. And so on…

Although we poke fun at the multiple roles that the receiving manager plays, seriously, a tremendous amount of efficiency and better communication can be realized at the loading dock with the right tool.

ID Access had the opportunity to interview BGI International , Olathe, KS, a provider of dock scheduling and management software and four of its foodservice distributor clients. What was clear after these conversations, technology can play an impressive role in optimizing the management of inbound shipments.

The BGI software, SmartDock is not the only dock scheduling and management software in the market, competitor products are available and offer many or similar features. SmartDock is being featured in what follows to provide an example of potential efficiencies that are obtainable through the use of present technology.

SOFTWARE REDUCES RECEIVING LABOR REQUIREMENTS According to Andy Long, vice president of purchasing for COI Foodservice, Nashville, TN, SmartDock has reduced his organization's receiving labor requirements by a good 15%. The dock scheduling and management software assisted COI Foodservice in accomplishing this by providing the organization with an ongoing snap shot by day, week and month of what was scheduled to come into the warehouse. As Long said, it (the software) "allows us to plan out ahead of time and make sure the work flows reasonably—not just loading up on a couple of days—but smoothing out when trucks come in. We reduced labor by being able to schedule out the week at an even pace." This sentiment was echoed by all four of the distributors we interviewed.

Mark Morton, director of operations, Ellenbee Leggett, Fairfield, OH, recalled his organization's time consuming appointment procedure prior to the implementation of SmartDock. Someone would call in for an appointment and the manager would ask for the purchase order number, the vender name, contact name to call, phone number to call and so forth.

This process would be repeated for every appointment, therefore each time this information would be captured—"duplicating again and again the information that had been associated with prior deliveries." The software supported process eliminates the need to document this data; it is already in the system. The manager simply asks for the purchase order number and queries the caller about the requested day and time of delivery.

The manager has visibility via his computer screen regarding what the order is and the immediacy of his organization's need for the product. In this particular software, the manager simply "drags the vendor and drops him onto the agreed upon appointment on the schedule."

Long pointed out that for COI Foodservice the visibility to the content of the order and the warehouse need has helped his organization optimize not only their in-bound receiving labor requirements but their replenishment scheduling and put-away process as well. Prior to the application of the software enabled process, "the appointment was in the book but you could not see what was on the PO. Now you can see what he (the carrier) has and know what door you need to send him to. We determine the door we're going to put him in as we schedule the appointment. The workflow of receiving is much more manageable and we can better anticipate our needs."

Morton also echoed Long's sentiments stating that they know their needs based on volume and are able to prioritize appointments accordingly. Because the information is presented visually they can, at a glance, look ahead and schedule their manpower requirements making room in the warehouse in preparation for the next day's in-coming loads as well as having all doors appropriately in use when delivery occurs.

Tom Harris, receiving clerk, Tony's Fine Foods, West Sacramento, CA, stated an additional benefit of this type of software is having an electronic record of the entire process, i.e. from the time the appointment call is first placed through the completion of unloading the truck. Harris related this record – "gives you all the information you need to know…was the 1st appointment kept, was the truck on time, the starting time and ending time for unloading, all the details you'd want to know about a truck. It makes it easier to do load balancing and it gives a report card of shippers."

PICKS INFORMATION FROM PO Ellenbee Leggett's Morton said there are several components to the electronic record that his company uses to optimize their efficiency. The software assists the scheduling manager with maximizing their in-bound dock capacity. The archived start and stop information allows the manager to schedule appointments based on workflow records. "It knows from the PO the number of cases and the time to allow for the appointment based on its records. Just put in the PO and the system tells you how long you need." Thus, productivity is increased by maximizing time use.

The software's ability to provide a data trail saves their manager's time if a dispute comes up. Morton cited the example of being able to with a few mouse clicks have a fact based conversation with an irate vendor who was claiming his truck was held up when in fact the truck had come in late. The system is able to reveal exactly what has occurred. This information provides management with insight that also is used proactively to smooth out scheduling challenges with indisputable facts.

As alluded to above, SmartDock resides in a multi-user environment. It provides real time information to warehouse operations, management and purchasing on what is occurring with their in-bound logistics and what is scheduled to occur.

The system is able to reveal exactly what has occurred. This information provides management with insight that also is used proactively to smooth out scheduling challenges with indisputable facts.
Phyllis Sarratt, vice president BiRite Foodservice Distributors, Brisbane, CA, expressed her appreciation for her ability to gain visibility to the warehouse. Sarratt uses the information each morning –it affords her the opportunity to easily see shorted product, when the next delivery is, and when the replenishment orders are due in. She is able to communicate through the system the urgency of the load. By seeing what is scheduled, it also shows what is not scheduled, providing her the opportunity to be proactive about scheduling an appointment for a needed order.

BiRite Foodservice uses the report card feature during business reviews with manufacturers. She likes the fact that her vendors "know we have the information. They know we know our business and can keep track of it…and they can't get away with cooked up information."

At some point during all of the conversations the distributors note the relatively trickiness of measuring the return on their investment as it relates to the use of technology, but not with this investment. Each distributor spoke to the ease of implementation, the intuitiveness of the product use and the almost immediate payback the software provided.

Our take-away from these discussions supports the notion that technology can play an impressive role in optimizing the management of inbound logistics and perhaps inbound efficiency is just a click away.

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