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We Didn't Know What We Were Getting Ourselves Into
Rockwell Automation shows how outsourcing a supply chain management solution can impact customer relationships.
Posted Aug 9, 2000
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Two years ago, the global publishing services division of Rockwell Automation in Milwaukee had become an unmanageable monster. Customers regularly endured long, unnecessary waits to receive printed copies of technical manuals and application sheets descring how products are used in various operations. Popular documents would often be on back order, while others supposed to be on order at one distribution center were in fact available for immediate shipment from another location. The inventory reporting process had no metrics to reflect the situation, so management could not track the efficiency of the printing and distribution system.

"We didn't know what we were doing," recalls Greg Kroeze, manager of global publishing services for Rockwell Automation. The problem was simple to define: Rockwell lacked a centrally managed document supply chain to ensure that it met its customers' needs effectively and efficiently.

Rockwell Automation, a subsidiary of Rockwell International Corp., manufactures 12,000 different industrial automation devices, computerized controls, input/output communications modules and motors under brand names such as Allen-Bradley, Dodge, Reliance Electric and Rockwell Software. Vendors around the world integrate these products into designs for automated robot systems that process, package and assemble everything from computer boards to automobiles.

When Kroeze began exploring options to improve the system, Rockwell's print centers were grinding out more than 18 million pages of manuals and technical application sheets per year. The company expected demand for publications, particularly documents in electronic form, to increase significantly as its e-business initiatives produced revenue growth projected at 3 to 4 percent per year over five years. Management wanted the inventories of all its distributors to be online by October 2000.

Rockwell Automation does not include technical publications with the hardware it ships to its 8,000 distributors, dealers and large end-user customers. Instead, they are sold as after-market products, ordered separately from one of nine distribution centers run by third-party vendors under contract to Rockwell.

Under the old system, many documents were shipped from on-hand inventories, which were then replenished to maintain stock levels; others were continuously back-ordered because the print centers couldn't produce them fast enough to meet demand. Because the centers didn't communicate well, they had no way to know whether out-of-stock copies--and how many of them--might be available at other locations.

"We needed a document supply system that was global in scope and could interface with all of our distribution centers, preferably through a centralized Web-based order-entry system that could also deliver technical manuals electronically," Kroeze says. A new system also would have to improve management of the supply chain so Rockwell Automation could provide a true print-on-demand, just-in-time order process as well as control costs.

Let someone else do it
In launching his search for such a system, Kroeze discovered that, although management was sympathetic to his problem, he could not count on support from Rockwell Automation's IT department. Its resources were fully engaged in solving Y2K problems, implementing a major ERP system and working on an e-commerce initiative for the company's core products.

Departmental managers often face such a situation, according to John Fontanella, research director for supply chain strategies at Boston-based AMR Research. "A process that would streamline the delivery of technical documentation or marketing materials is never the first priority when management is looking at internal investment dollars, infrastructure dollars or IT dollars. It's important but not business-critical, so an outside integrator might be the best solution."

Kroeze investigated several document management systems, most of which were software packages designed to be installed on an enterprise's IT backbone. That type of solution would require an overhaul of the computing infrastructure within his division. Instead, he chose AWDM from Cstech Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., a product designed for inventory management, distribution and order fulfillment of print and electronic publications. What appealed most to Kroeze was that Cstech delivers AWDM as a hosted service using an application service provider (ASP) model, which keeps the application and its maintenance separate from the client company's IT infrastructure.

The biggest challenge for Rockwell Automation in switching to a new publishing and distribution system was cleaning and preparing the document identification system. In addition to the physical inventory of printed pages, PDF files for each document existed on an IBM mainframe in Milwaukee and in computers at the distribution centers. The metadata structures associated with each of these versions had to be standardized before the information could be entered into the new system at Cstech.

Because of multiple identification systems, each of the 12,000 device documents potentially had 10 to 15 unique identifiers, and there was no way to correlate those that belonged to the same item. Kroeze's team of 50, which included document administrators who have authority to change content and people who prepare new documents for publication, spent most of the five months it took to implement the AWDM system in establishing a single ID for each document. Once that task was accomplished, Cstech plugged those numbers into its Sun Solaris servers, along with digital versions of the documents. Cstech created new templates that Rockwell Automation, its distribution facilities and Cstech would use to manage the inventory.

At 5 p.m. on a Wednesday in June 1999, Rockwell Automation's distribution centers stopped filling orders; those received after that time were logged. By midnight of the following Sunday, each distribution center had delivered completed inventories on the templates Cstech had provided, and the system went live over the Internet at a Web site called theautomationbookstore.com. There, users searching for a specific document can run queries by publication number, title, brand and product line. With search results in hand, they can scan a document online to verify that it is the desired item. Users have the option of immediately downloading a copy or placing an order for a printed version.

Better auditing
The new system quickly yielded meaningful statistics. "We discovered that 5 percent of our hot material accounted for more than 25 percent of the distribution, which explained why we could never keep enough copies on the shelves," says Kroeze. "Other document groups had so much inventory on hand that if we threw out 60 percent of what was in stock, we'd still have a projected two-year supply."

Rockwell also became able to identify old and obsolete documents that will never be consumed, so inventory reductions can be planned. More importantly, the Cstech system provides up-to-the-minute reporting and historical data that the old system could not produce.

Kroeze says the time and investment in this literature management system is paying knowledge dividends. Besides controlling costs, it provides customers and dealers a more robust and reliable experience in working with Rockwell Automation.

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