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New supply chain management software and systems integration for Rhys Davies Freight Logistics

Total integration of in-house supply chain applications with the SAP system of a major customer has enabled Rhys Davies Freight Logistics to improve its overall service, save costs and deliver greater visibility of management and performance information. The new application incorporates 10 interfaces with the customer’s system with integration and project management provided by Chess Logistics Technology using its Empirica supply chain management software.

"I’ve worked for larger companies and I doubt you’ll find a better level of integration anywhere," says Mark Richmond, Managing Director at Rhys Davis Freight Logistics. "This will give us a real edge going forward."

With over 450 employees and more than 560,000ft2 of warehousing Rhys Davies Freight Logistics (RDFL) operates from nine locations strategically based throughout the UK to provide nationwide coverage for customers in a number of niche sectors. The company offers a complete range of services that are designed to manage single pallets through to a total logistics service utilising a fleet of 170 transport vehicles.

One of the company’s larger customers is an international office products company for whom it manages the UK distribution of consumables such as paper, toner cartridges and other stationery items. The two businesses have a strong relationship following over 15 years of working together. During that time the business systems used by both companies have evolved tremendously but while RDFL had access to the customer’s SAP application using terminals in each warehouse there was no direct interface. This meant warehouse staff had to rekey a lot of information in both directions but especially to keep its customer’s systems up-to-date.

"There was a disconnect between the warehouse and transport software which meant a lot of re-keying required to prepare summaries," says Mark Richmond. "We could not manage each consignment individually and were unable to offer the customer detailed information on areas such as service levels and cost reporting."

RDFL had been using warehouse management systems supplied by Chess for a similar period and had adopted the modular Empirica solution around three years ago. When it reviewed its operations with the customer it recognised that there were many potential advantages in closer integration of Empirica and other back office and supply chain systems with the customer’s application.

One of the key advantages the company foresaw was the ability to remove the terminal equipment from its depots which would simplify the management of the operation and reduce costs which could be passed on to the customer. Internally the company saw that integration of its business, customer, warehousing and transport systems offered benefits in efficiency, productivity and accuracy because of faster data transfer and no need to rekey.

A tender process involving Chess and other potential suppliers led the company to select Empirica as a core component of the overall project because of the application’s integration capabilities. The design of Empirica ensures that a core application, which was already in use at RDFL, can be enhanced by adding specific functions and interfaces using existing modules and new code to create a solution that meets the customer’s specification precisely. This approach also helps ensure features that are not required need not be implemented which helps to keep the design, integration and ongoing support processes as simple as possible.

"It was a natural choice but we wanted to benchmark Empirica against a number of other packages to make sure it gave the specific benefits we wanted," says Mark Richmond. "We were comfortable that Empirica would interface with the customer’s system and that we would be able to work closely and talk openly to everyone involved in this complex project."

The resulting system has provided 10 separate interfaces between various RDFL systems with the customer’s SAP application. The level of integration is absolute for the management of the operation from order processing through to fulfilment and rectification of delivery issues. There is lots of automated reporting and the amount of information available also supports new ways of working. For example, it is now possible for RDFL or the customer to check stock availability and reschedule it for delivery in real time. The integrated system also allows the customer to place orders later in the day because information is transferred and verified almost instantly.

"It provides us with a clear understanding of how we manage the work which has enhanced our operational performance," says Mark Richmond. "And we have been able to use the data to further improve our processes down the supply chain, for example by exchanging information with some of our parcel carrier fulfilment partners."

The interface is currently unique within the customer’s business and RDFL believes this helps to promote a close working relationship. One aspect of Empirica that has proved popular with the customer is web-enabled access and reporting. This allows the customer to check any aspect of the operation whenever they require and to view real-time and up-to-date information. Among the many advantages is a reduction in the number of stock queries passed through RDFL because the customer has immediate access to the information on its own screens.

For the implementation a test system was developed before the application was introduced at the main RDFL site in Cardiff before being rolled out to the remaining depots following an agreed schedule during 2008. The company recognises that the evaluation process, and lessons learned by all parties since the implementation, have been just as important as the initial specification.

"Projects are never perfect even with the best planning but issues have been addressed professionally and Chess has been very good at understanding our needs and those of our customer," says Mark Richmond.

RDFL has already introduced some of the functionality developed for the project into the contracts it manages for other customers, especially those for whom it provides a full logistics service.

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