While many have heeded that message, I was shocked to speak with two automotive executives recently, who opened our conversation with, “the largest challenge we face lies in the data.” Specifically, they were both referring to the difficulty of reconciling brands and part numbers between trading partners. Nothing else really matters if a buyer and seller can’t agree on the brand and part number. Purchase orders, sales analysis, forecasts, category management, inventory automation and so on – these systems won’t perform up to their full potential as long as customer service has to intervene or vast mapping and interchange tables need to be developed and maintained.
The specific difficulty my executives explained was that distributors had created different part numbers for an item from what the supplier used. Across multiple distributors the problem just multiplied. Full order processing automation was being largely blocked by a failure to have a single version of the truth.
The choice being contemplated was whether a master mapping table should be managed by the group headquarters or the burden should be pushed over to the suppliers to resolve the differences. In either case, needless expense and lost efficiency are imposed on the supply chain.
Distributors may have perfectly legitimate reasons for keeping a suppliers’ item under different or even multiple stocking part numbers. Sourcing items from more than one supplier is the most common explanation. Keeping the supplier’s original part number on the stocking item, and sending both the stocking part number as well as the supplier’s part number, is the best practice for ensuring that the supplier can easily recognize the part number when they get a replenishment order.
Brand identification shouldn’t be a guessing game either. The industry maintains a standard reference table for brand identification at the Auto Care Association (www.autocare.org). Buyers and sellers will refer to, and consolidate brands in whatever fashion they decide. But, for purchase orders and other data exchange, a neutral reference code serves to bridge the gap without interfering with anyone’s business systems.
Many distributors, retailers and suppliers have made significant progress in reducing errors and waste associated with poor data quality. But, it remains important for all executives to remember the role of data governance and quality in the business results they get out of their IT investments. Jerry was right 15 years ago – it’s still “all about the data.” Trading partners have got to stop putting up data barriers in their trading relationships and invest in the systems and methods that perfect their product and commerce data, and keep it in synch.
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