Responding to Market Forces Brings E-Business Fulfillment

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Market forces are quickly changing the way companies do business. The growth of the Internet, the need for increased communication between trading partners and the expansion to a global market have altered the way companies compete for even a single customer.

Developing an e-business strategy and the business structure to support it is no longer a competitive advantage but a business necessity. Connecting your supply chain to your internal and external processes -- from suppliers to manufacturers to the final customer -- is an incredible undertaking, but as the fulfillment vehicle for your business, it must be a priority. The success of your fulfillment processes is the success of your company. It is here that you foster customer loyalty, enable real-time visibility and provide value-added services.

The Internet is an undeniable force of change for business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies. With the ability to link consumers from virtually any location, it has produced a revolution in how consumers view businesses, businesses approach suppliers and ultimately how products are delivered.

The BTC market is virtually unlimited. Global competition, the availability of alternate suppliers and changing order requirements make retaining customers ever more difficult. For both the BTB and BTC markets, service will be the single most important factor. The ability to customize products, guarantee delivery and offer immediate response to changes in the environment is the benchmark by which companies will be measured.

Finding a balance between your BTB and BTC strategies is increasingly important. Meeting the needs of both requires a reliance on systems and business partners to manage much of your fulfillment activities. Companies such as Dell Computer successfully walk the line between BTB and BTC, and achieve triple-digit gains for their insight and effort.

Networks that support online fulfillment collect an immense amount of data about customers, orders and distribution activities. In the right hands, this data is a powerful tool for developing a successful fulfillment solution and satisfying customers.

Using the data, however, requires converting it from its raw form into useful information. Finding the true value of the data requires sorting and filtering while avoiding irrelevant details. A data warehousing model supporting the transformation of data into information is increasingly important. Even though information analysis is vital to your business performance, it should not create bottlenecks or slow your processes. Being able to perform information analysis in real time is an important factor of success. It is this process that turns data into information and ultimately into knowledge.

The conversion of information into knowledge occurs as patterns are identified and decisions are made. Once this transition is made, forward-thinking businesses take advantage of their technology prowess or leverage business partners to develop intelligent systems to manage the completion of activities.

Solution management is a simple concept but difficult to develop. Once developed, it is an incredibly valuable customer service tool. In a nutshell, solution management systems perform continuous analysis of your data, draw correlations between current activities and historical trends, then make decisions to correct, modify or prevent activities that could lead to potentially critical issues. These systems will convert the data into information, use its knowledge of your supply chain to manage distribution activities and allow you to concentrate on other more critical functions. Workflow engines and high-tech solutions such as neural networks can implement solution management.

Early versions of these systems are in place, and more advanced systems are being developed. Order any product from a growing number of Web sites, and you'll receive an e-mail within seconds confirming your order and providing tracking information. BTB applications that combine supply chain visibility, event management and data warehousing are available today and are on the cutting edge of the supply chain software market.

The future promises even more. Companies are adopting new technologies, such as XML and information subscriptions, to link supply chain systems with their business partners, thereby expanding the scope of knowledge by combining information.

The importance of developing an e-business strategy is undeniable. Markets, competition and consumers are pushing companies to include them in their fulfillment processes. The future promises even more change, and companies that embrace change will be the most successful.

New e-businesses should expect to answer the following questions:

* How will I collect and manage the data of my global supply chain?

* How will I convert data to information and, ultimately, to knowledge?

* How will I use this knowledge to implement solution management?

Remember that the most successful companies are the ones most responsive to change.

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