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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The 800-lb Gorilla

We all know the metaphor about the 800-lb Gorilla, or the large customer who gets his way. Dealing with these brutes can be quite the challenge, especially given the delicate politics of the situation.

The vendor to the 800-lb Gorilla has many obstacles:

the signing of strict legal contracts, agreeing to long payment terms, satisfying tight delivery dates, and complying with the electronic delivery of business documents at a precise level of accuracy.

Because of the volume of "bananas" and magnitude of product replenishment, the Gorilla's appetite for efficiencies exists throughout the entire supply chain. From the procurement of raw materials, through manufacturing and distribution, numerous techniques are employed to streamline the process; Just-In-Time inventory is one example; Track and Tracing is another.

The Gorillas have their processes honed to a science... at least most of them do. Not long ago, I was assisting a small supplier to a large retailer in correcting some of their electronic documents. The documents were already in production, but the supplier started receiving charge backs (fees) from the retailer due to non-compliance.

One example of non-compliance was that the retailer required an ANSI X12 Inventory Advice. The supplier was transmitting the document as agreed, but a particular data element was not in the format desired by the retailer. My task was to research and fix the "bad" element. Sounds simple, right?

We fixed the inventory advice and wanted to test with the retailer. This spawned numerous calls through the business channels to ultimately obtain a "vendor hotline" number. Calling this number landed us in India, and the person on the other end had no idea what the electronic document was. Our case was escalated to level 2.

A couple of days later, we were contacted by level 2 (still offshore), but the person was proficient in X12 terminology. After explaining our intent, she gave us another contact who deals directly with testing. We called this number, only to get a message that the test coordinator was out of the office for the next two days. We are now one week into the task, charge backs are coming, tempers flaring, and no hope of resolution until after testing next week.

After about three weeks of playing electronic musical chairs, the retailer and the supplier are both finally satisfied; although my team and I (along with the management) are mentally exhausted. In this example, the need for efficiency created an inefficient process. A process fashioned by the very Gorilla who wanted efficiency in the first place.

Or maybe this Gorilla was more of an Orangutan? ;)

JM Kelly, The IT Entrepreneur

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