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Infinite aisles require a real-time, on-demand supply chain

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 09:00
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Have you ever gone to a website and entered search parameters, for example, a destination city, a departure and return dates, and the maximum number of stops? Of course you have. In seconds that website returns dozens or hundreds of search results from all of the leading airlines – all on-demand in response to your search criteria. So, why don’t more automotive suppliers and distributors make their products visible in this same fashion?

Web services have become so ubiquitous on the Internet that we aren’t even aware that we use them several times a day. Think about how the pages build the next time you go to your preferred news service, or Facebook or LinkedIn or travel site in search of planes, trains and automobiles.

The resulting web pages are built dynamically in real-time in response to who you are, where you are and what you are searching for. The page results are almost infinite in scale. LinkedIn, for example, just keeps looking deeper into your contacts and the contacts of your contacts, in search of updates, likes and news that may be of interest to you. All made possible by machine-generated queries and responses based on rules and programming logic.

In this space we’ve written about evolving customer-shopping behavior called omni-channel commerce. We’ve explained that consumers are bringing their online search and shopping habits to work – they are called B2B customers. And Amazon Business and their imitators are racing to meet and exceed buyers’ expectations for a seamless shopping experience with “infinite aisles” of products.

Of course, we don’t need to repeat how critical complete, accurate and graphical product content is in persuading the customer to click “buy.” But all of this wisdom is pointless unless the product information, inventory availability and customer-specific pricing is available in seconds for all of the products available for sale. That’s where the web services come in.

As with any IT decision, trading partners have the choice of developing a private method of asking for information and returning results. This may be more expedient in the beginning, but the burden of the private integration, testing and maintenance falls on the trading partners and grows with the number of unique connections.

The alternative is a standards-based method of integration, such as industry-specific web services. Standards lower the cost of each integration and testing cycle dramatically, lead to predictable results and accelerate industry-wide implementation. Fortunately, the auto care industry has a suite of tailor-made web services for the inquiry, purchase and transaction of special orders and drop shipments – the Internet Parts Ordering specification (IPO).

Web services have the advantage of acting in real-time, on-demand. The IT implementation is more manageable because two business systems don’t need to be “taught” how to talk to each other – they only need to understand how to communicate with the web service. This leads to one integration instead of one for each trading partner.

When properly implemented and tested a web service can reach out to a trading partner and get a meaningful response with nothing more than permission to communicate (authentication). In short, IPO web services are a pretty compelling proposition with a solid return on investment. Look at the Technology page at the Auto Care Association website for information about IPO.

If you are an automotive wholesaler or retailer, the idea of accessing real-time visibility to millions of SKUs, with as-of-this-second product information, inventory, pricing and shipping charges is an interesting addition to your marketing strategy. And, since all of this information flows from the distribution supply chain, manufacturers and suppliers would be well-served to look at IPO web services as a way of showcasing all of their products all of the time to their trading partners and their customers. Web services are good for business – just ask a travel agent.

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