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Standard Operating Procedures for Supply Fulfillment Practices

As stated in the Supply Fulfillment Standard Operating Procedures, an Example  post, proper software installation is often the first order of business when providing a supply fulfillment program.  Then confirmation should be made to ensure updated device firmware is in place, followed by discussions of security and software access to device web pages so reporting can occur.

Definite procedures should be identified and in place and we strongly advocate those practices be in writing so everyone can understand specific standard operating procedures.Process outlines may include but are not limited to:

  • Installation practices
  • Challenging deployment procedures
  • How to check for up-to-date firmware
  • Security and device web page access
  • Defining proper device placement
  • Configuring installations to send device status detail

This segment of Supply Fulfillment Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will suggest other areas for dealers and value added resellers (VARs) to consider when implementing supply fulfillment programs.

Management of the Device Fleet

Posted in an earlier  Fleet Assessment: Wrap-up  piece, we suggested VARs can only provide exemplarily services after the devices in the fleet are discovered and begin reporting.  Determination must be made for …

  • how many devices are in the fleet;
  • where the devices are located;
  • percentage of machines on the network;
  • how many printers are locally connected to workstations (and if management is to be offered);
  • age of the fleet;
  • device reporting precision; and
  • any firmware and/or driver updates that may be needed.

The bullets above represent just some of the factors affecting fleet management and the ability to provide supply fulfillment services.  When reliable reporting on devices in the imaging fleet cannot be obtained, placement of “MPS capable” equipment may be in order. 

Dealers must ask themselves, is USB printer management worth the cost?    Toner detail is typically not reported by  locally connected  printers.  If local printers are to be managed, the VAR must put programs in place to manage not only the printers themselves, but their continuous reporting and output as well. 

In addition, older devices may only report in states of “READY”, “OK” or “OUT”, only report in 25% or 20% increments, or may stop reporting status detail below 25%.  Machines that are not “MPS ready” or offer low MPS capability may not alert toner at low levels, or worse provide only intermittent status reliability. 

At times the fleet may be diverse.  The array of supplies needed may be too vast to be profitable.  Recommendations for equipment replacement or relocation should be made.  There is nothing that says the dealer must manage the entire fleet or manage devices they cannot or do not support.

Dealers need to have plans in place to work with all machine types and reporting anomalies. 

False Positive Alerting

Regarding the alerts themselves, dealers should have protocols in place to manage the alert process.  When alerts are received, volume checks should be made to compare against published cartridge yields.  Hard questions need to be asked when supply requests come in long before cartridges should run out.

  • Has the accuracy of device reporting been confirmed?
  • Are stated OEM/manufacturer/remanufacture supply item yields consistent with user print habits?
  • Is more toner going on the page than would normally be expected (high page saturation)?
  • Do historical volumes warrant a high frequency cartridge changes?
  • Is the correct cartridge for the printed output being used?
  • Are software supply order thresholds properly set for all devices (are alerts sent too early, late, etc.)?
  • Are customers replacing cartridges before they are empty (Pre-mature cartridge replacement)?
  • Are all toners changed when only a single cartridge replacement is indicated?
  • Are cartridges reporting bad information?
  • Is the supply order request because of an unexpected or upcoming heavy print production run?
  • Are duplicate alerts causing multiple supplies to be ordered, sent or replaced?

Dealers should know answers for all the questions above.  Program outlines should include “What to do when …” statements.  Sound operating procedures have written guidelines for all eventualities.

Handling Multiple Supply Item Requests

Duplicate shipping of supplies is the bane of every supply fulfillment program.  In just a few extra shipments or in cases of “lost” merchandise, already narrow margins disappear resulting in upside down contracts.  Through supply procedure training for help desk and supply fulfillment staff, challenges can be mitigated.

  • Enabling toner alerts with proper alert thresholds based on device volume
  • Enabling service alerts for sites and/or devices that do not report toner values
  • Enabling maintenance alerts for consumable supplies like drums and waste toner bottles
  • Setting of volume alerts for devices that do not report supply status
  • Call-in orders received from the customer
  • Processing received alerts
  • Verification practices to reduce duplicate orders
  • Checking alerts for order fulfillment
  • Supply order confirmation and fulfillment practices

Reactive action to supply requests is not supply management.  Following written policies to reduce the chance of double shipments improves long-term profitability.

Customer Out of Stock

Supply fulfillment could be defined as the art of balancing usage, demand, inventory, and financial impact.  In an ideal world, most resellers would love to provide “just-in-time” supply fulfillment.  The reality is there are going to be exceptions to every rule.  

Knowing the imaging fleet reporting capability and its print volume helps define supply usage.  Installing data gathering software and configuring it to send correct status detail allows dealers to receive advanced notification of need.  Managing supply inventory to match usage and demand helps control costs. 

Still, considerations must be made for high volume print output.  Commonly referred to as “safety stock”, many customers expect there to be replacement toner on the shelf.  But is an entire inventory of on-location toner really needed?  How many times should dealers have to open supply cabinets to find outdated or expired toner?  Educate consumers with print volume detail.  Help them reduce safety stock inventory. 

Safety stock presents an additional challenge — Who owns the supplies and will they be stored?  Customers typically don’t want to pay for supplies until placed in the machine.  Yet when supplies are out of the control of the dealer or VAR they can get “lost”.  Again policies need to be put in place to address shortfalls:

  • What multifunction devices require on location stocking of supplies?
  • Who owns the supply once it is in position of the customer?
  • Can the supply be used in other (non-managed) devices?  How is that to be addressed?
  • What happens when the supply turns up missing, or is used in non-managed equipment?
  • Who pays for the safety stock’s replacement (supply, emergency delivery, etc.)?

While it is true that a small amount of back-up toner may be required, an automated system that relies on the accuracy of reporting helps limit inventory and reduces exposure to loss.  Dealers that must supply safety stock should have conditions in writing that address all aspects of supply shortfall.

Supply Chain Management

While dealers and VARs can do little to anticipate supplier out-of-stock or supply chain shortfalls, programs should be in place when the eventuality occurs.  Agreements allowing for the substitution or replacement of contracted supplies with alternatives protect the VAR and keep customers’ equipment operational. 

Providers should put into written policies to address supply item quality (defective consumables).  Practices including the pickup of defective supplies from users and return to vendor policies offer effective financial recovery to the wronged party.  

Monitoring software should be able to detect when the occasional device stops reporting toner levels or when particular cartridges have reporting anomalies.  When incidences like these happen, dealers should have policies in place to check:

  • Is the latest firmware installed? … If not, send out a tech to do an update.
  • Is the reporting problem a result of an inferior or faulty cartridge? … A site visit by a qualified technician is in order.

NOTE –  Quality cartridges typically have fewer challenges.  Suppliers that stand behind their products may have buyback solutions and/or credits for defective merchandise … but dealers need to keep their suppliers engaged to take advantage of this.  Directors of supply fulfillment and technical operations can hold the vendors’ “feet to the fire” if agreements are in place.

In addition, dealers should include management outlines for direct to consumer drop shipments, dealer shipping via mail or UPS, for misdirected stock and for delivery by service car and emergency supply fulfillment.  Planning for all eventualities simply puts dealers and VARs in much safer financial positions.

… In summary

Putting a supply fulfillment program into practice is more than shipping toner when requested by the consumer.  An outline or guide should be in place so steps can be followed to ensure program profitability is achieved.  Good outlines include breakouts for:

  • Management of the Device Fleet
  • False Positive Alerting
  • Customer Out of Stock
  • Handling Multiple Supply Item Requests
  • Supply Chain Management

Dealers who write practices for each of the areas above continue to build a sound fulfillment program foundation.  Omitting specific steps erodes profitability and causes supply fulfillment to become reactionary.  Value added resellers put themselves in a better position when they are in control of business practices.