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Software as a Service is changing the rules of the supply chain game, says Denis O'Sullivan.

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One of the biggest inhibitors to efficiency and high levels of customer service in the supply chain has always been a lack of real-time relevant knowledge. There is plenty of historical data about what went right and wrong, but it is a huge task to recover and analyse this to gain a real understanding.

What is needed is real-time knowledge of what is happening out there now – but delivered in an affordable way, without the need for major capital expenditure.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is now becoming available for supply chain and logistics applications – and you do not need to buy it, nor the hardware infrastructure to run it, and there are no charges for maintenance and upgrades!

The change is being driven by business and consumer customers demanding better service and 24x7 access to information relating to their orders. Because of the web delivery of the software solution, companies of all sizes, from recently created mega-carriers to small regional businesses, are able to access even advanced logistics applications.

Typical SaaS companies charge on an as-you-use basis, which is either payment by transaction or payment based on the number of users in the company. This means customers pay only for what they need, and as their business grows they can increase the features they want to use.

UK providers

A number of UK companies are developing SaaS for logistics.

DPS International of Halesowen (www.dps-int.com) has long provided traditional PC-based vehicle planning software but recently introduced a SaaS version, logixcentral, where payment is on a user basis. This has been further developed by DPS to include a tool which enables users to measure the carbon footprint of their current logistics fleet operation and see the impact that running different vehicles or better routes will bring.

Visibility and collaboration

One customer of DPS, Utility Partnership Ltd of Cardiff (www.up-ltd.co.uk), has tackled the issue of creating efficient work planning, while at the same time achieving significant cost and efficiency benefits.

UPL specialises in smart metering, also known as AMR – automatic meter reading. This shows what and when gas, water and electricity has been used. Its solution to creating efficient and low-energy work plans was to use vehicle routing and scheduling software from DPS.

UPL works with three out of the four major mobile phone companies, fitting and monitoring smart meters at phone masts, and with major retailers checking the energy usage at stores and facilities 365 days a year. "When we first started we were able to use manual route and work scheduling, but now we are fitting 200 sites a week and it is simply not feasible to produce efficient plans manually," the company explained.

Denis O’Sullivan is a director of NetworkedWorld and a consultant focusing on SaaS solutions. He was previously IBM ebusiness solutions strategy manager and is co-author of a major Financial Times report on e-business for corporations. He is a Fellow of CILTUK and chairs the CILT Supply Chain Integration Forum. Email: denis_osullivan@btopenworld.com.


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