Today’s world of commerce looks very different than when NEECOM was started 25 years ago. Today we have a world of mobile and web shoppers as well as a huge list of trading partner integration methods, documents and APIs, EDI, XML, portals, and on and on, as well as all those web architecture methods.
So it was appropriate for Ira Keltz, the President of NEECOM, to kick off an agenda for NEECOM’s fall 2015 conference to not only celebrate the organization’s longevity, but also the professionals who make commerce happen.This is an all-volunteer team who works hard to ensure great programs to keep professionals current on the issues they need to understand in the tech world.
Back when NEECOM began, it was known as NEEDI—New England EDI. Yes, ye olde EDI. But at that time, if you wanted to do electronic commerce, EDI was the way. As technology changed, NEECOM was able to absorb the changes in technology and update the name of the organization.
Omni-channel was, appropriately, the big theme for the fall 2015 conference. Omni-channel was examined from multiple facets. Speakers such as Pat Smith, President and Managing Director in the US for ToolsGroup, talked about the impact that web commerce is having on product portfolios and inventory planning. Companies are now expected to offer greater portfolios of products and have available-to-promise inventory somewhere in their network to fulfill orders. This means rethinking forecasting models and inventory strategies, with new approaches toward supplier terms and processes to support ecommerce and fulfillment. Most companies focus their plans around the big sales items, but miss planning the long tail—slower moving products that sell over time—but which are expected not just due to Omni-channel, but from traditional store models. For example, products like pain killers and cold medicines turn quickly at the drug store; they are always restocked. But consumers expect that when they need to buy a product like a heating pad, which they may buy only once in a lifetime, it will be there too. The heating pad is that long tail product. And if consumers can’t find these items in the store, they will find them online from another source.
This set up the thought process for rethinking inventory stocking and fulfillment methods. Pat cited several great examples, one from our local ecommerce leader Wayfair (who we heard speak at a previous NEECOM). What does it really mean to stock over a million items? And then ensure rapid fulfillment to each and every customer?1 These are the challenges Wayfair faced; and they are not alone as many retailers have followed suit in figuring this out.
Another speaker, Marc Kalman, Founder and CEO of BizSlate, talked about getting ready for Omni-channel, the data the systems, and the changing processes. Interestingly, although the media talks about Omni so much, many in the audience were not tuned in to the issues or how they really need to prepare. In particular, wholesalers, who Kalman counts among his core, have benefited from Omni since they can use their traditional channels to sell direct to customers. Yet he cautioned that Omni-channel will be the killer for many who don’t step up to the plate, as more progressive companies who do will take market share and customers away from laggards. This means taking a fresh look at the tech portfolio.2
Whether manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer, clearly, as Ira Keltz pointed out, we all need to re-examine the old systems we use—which might not be ready to handle the world we are in now. Ira encouraged the attendees to start looking at the tech market and learn about what they can do to modernize their businesses.
So our next speaker, David Matsil, President of Sales and Marketing at Enhanced Retail Solutions, spoke about how to leverage the information from communications and commerce for better supply chain planning and forecasting. As Matsil made clear, most companies have many data assets that they don’t leverage to create inventory and replenishment plans. And often they don’t capture their trading partners’ available data. “‘Good enough’ is not going to make it today,” he challenged the audience. Optimistically, he also pointed out that today, unlike years ago, executives are much more open to listen to a tech provider’s advice. David said that he no longer hears from prospects and customers, “Don’t tell me how to run my business.” Rather, execs know that the world is changing and they need to learn and change to keep up and that tech companies have a role to play in helping them.3
One of the challenging and important issues suppliers and retailers need to address is who is going to ship all those products to end-users. One of the award winners at the conference was a firm called logicbroker. This company caught on quickly to this key and growing integration point between retailers and their suppliers. Every day I hear about a new ‘change’ in the retailer/supplier relationship as retailers push ‘ship to consumer’ onto their suppliers. This role and the costs associated with it are a huge issue for suppliers.4 In one unpleasant bit of news, for example, Walmart announced it will charge suppliers fees for warehousing inventory. This means that suppliers will want to find new ways to be more effective in logistics across the board as Omni and the associated plethora of process changes become more prevalent.
Connecting the Supply Chain
Tony D’Angelo from InterTrade5 gave us a walk through history—everything from the first barcoding and EDI to our present Omni-channel world. InterTrade is the mega-catalogue company which enables product information and transaction data between trading partners. It was interesting to consider the evolution and the longevity of these technologies. Tony knows present—and past—electronic commerce leaders and it was striking how humble these guys are, considering that they changed the world.
Carol Weidner of eZCom told me that “An important lesson in the Omni-channel is data accuracy as well as having trading partners adhere to standards.” She also mentioned that there has been an increase in interest in B2B communications and prospects seem more eager to work with partners and implement critical EDI transactions.
So now we know it: EDI is not going away.
Pat Hall of DiCentral wrapped up that line of thinking by talking about connecting across the supply chain. More and more organizations are seeking out managed services for B2B since cloud applications and the services associated with data management are being ‘outsourced’ to provider companies. Clearly, not having the time or people for B2B (or other tech tools) is no longer an obstacle to success.
Omni and RFID?
What would a discussion on Omni-channel be without RFID? (We will have a full article about this in our next issue.) Attendees engaged in a discussion about the growing use of RFID for retailers (and suppliers) as a part of their Omni-portfolio.
Relevance of NEECOM
Our technology community has gone through more than 10 major technology shifts that impact the electronic commerce professional. In NEECOM’s history that is about one shift every two years. Hence, getting out and learning about the new technology shifts, planning for them, training, and transforming the way you work needs to be the personal and organizational game plan. Ultimately, NEECOM remains relevant because it stays current and brings top professionals together to share ideas and to help to further these goals.