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Supply Fulfillment Survey … Results are in!

Thank you to everyone who offered entries and contributed opinions on the Supply Fulfillment survey we prepared.  I am humbled by the thoughtful input and by the number of readers who have “liked” and commented on this and our other postings since our “MPS Champion” blog came into being over two years ago.

I can report that the results indicate that for the most part, Supply Fulfillment is well defined among those who took the survey. Survey respondents represented a cross section of the imaging industry … Business Machine Dealers, MPS Service providers and representatives, OEMs, IT services providers, value added resellers (VARs), software developers, and even industry bloggers and writers.

I am also happy to say over two thirds of those who partook indicated their company has a supply fulfillment program in place, and standard fulfillment practices or at least some of the processes are documented.

Supply Fulfillment – Program Management

When it comes to program management, the top items providers carry out are 1) Ensure received alerts are managed from receipt to fulfillment, 2) Supply order action is taken and orders are confirmed and 3) Received alerts are checked for order fulfillment.

Top responses were followed closely by:

  • Alert history summaries reviewed weekly, monthly or at regular intervals
  • Help desk staff are trained in supply fulfillment procedures
  • Supply fulfillment staff is in place

Interestingly, only a small number of the respondents indicated that a supply fulfillment feedback process is used to ensure process improvement. The category was rounded out by several respondents who wrote they track the history of supply use by device, have supply alerts, fulfillment orders and confirmation notices fully automated, and include shipping integration processes and supply replacement verification.

Collection software Installation and Configuration

Getting information from monitored devices is paramount to the success of any supply fulfillment program and software installation and configuration is at the foundation of information capture.  Most contributors felt that installation should be done by qualified service managers or IT specialists and that installation assistance should be available from the software partner when requested.  Installations done using download links on company websites, software deployment links sent to customers to permit self installation and the use of USB keys / thumb drives were also common.  These methods allow the software to be pre-configured to gather and send information prior to going on location.  USB key deployments also allow:

  • Installations to be done on customer designated workstations and/or servers;
  • Installations to be accomplished during routine supply fulfillment calls;
  • Installations to be completed during sales calls; and
  • Deployments to be done during of MPS program implementation.

Indications also lead us to believe on-location installs provide for:

  • Accurate device reporting to be verified during software deployment;
  • SNMP to be enabled when necessary and devices to be configured as needed; and
  • Device firmware to be updated to latest versions for machine proper reporting.

Staff Member / Department Responsibilities

As noted above, having the ability to install preconfigured software to send device status information is an important consideration for most dealers.  Enabling supply alerting and setting toner alert thresholds along with routing notifications via email are also critical to successful supply fulfillment programs. Premature cartridge replacement (PCR) alerting was also shown as an important way to catch toner waste.  Respondents indicated that service notification be enabled to give advanced notice of maintenance parts need as well. Several respondents indicated an importance for receiving volume alerting for devices that do not report supply status.  Others indicated that alerts, fulfillment orders and confirmation should be automated and that alert reports be generated and reviewed at regular intervals to insure process fulfillment.

Supply Fulfillment – Program Considerations

When it comes to what should be considered for Supply Fulfillment, survey results showed a strong need for management of the device fleet.  Without fleet management, value added resellers, dealers and IT providers are unable to provide any kind of supply fulfillment program. Other considerations included review of:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Page Coverage vs. Supply Cost
  • Customer Out of Stock
  • Supply chain shortfalls
  • Supply Item Yield

Additionally, the survey illustrated supply fulfillment providers work with their suppliers to ensure they have practices in place to handle multiple supply item requests, maintain supply item quality and manage misdirected stock. Many participants wrote in that dealers themselves need to monitor gathered information to manage false positive alerting, safety and lost stock in order to offer end to end supplies fulfillment.

Supply Fulfillment – Reports

Business machine dealers and VARs use a variety of reports to help them manage their supply fulfillment business.  Survey contributors indicated the following reports are useful:

  • Customer location / Device Status report
  • Device Volume report
  • Volume Analysis report
  • Devices with Missing Toner Levels report
  • Consumables report

Less common but still important reports include:

  • Site Alerts Summary report
  • Device Totals report
  • Low Toner Levels report
  • Total Cost of Ownership report
  • Replacement report, supply efficiency
  • Shipments and Delivery confirmation reports

Indications are that use of reports varies by dealer but in general, report review helps to validate programs and ensures alerts are monitored and acted upon from receipt to fulfillment.

Supply Fulfillment Champions

Many hats cover supply fulfillment professionals.  In some dealerships, the director of operations oversees the program with a dedicated team taking the day-to-day lead.  In others, the program is overseen by the dealership’s MPS manager with daily fulfillment operations run by a supply manager. In some cases, supply sales are overseen by the service manager who may manage a supply team or technical helpdesk / support staffers along with their other duties.  The widest array of responders indicated that their program is overseen, but there was no indication of a common department or champion. Several of the respondents offered that they do not have a champion; their programs were completely automated or run by their supplies provider or by an automated process. With these resellers, indication are that supply alerts, fulfillment orders, and confirmation notices receive tight supply management backend monitoring to ensure system profitability and accuracy.

Supply Management – Tools Used to ensure Process Improvement

There are many tools that resellers use to ensure their companies implement, adhere to, and improve processes to increase supply management profitability and improve customer satisfaction.  Some of these tools include:

  • Quality collection software or data collection agent (FMAudit, Print Audit, PrintFleet, PrintTracker, etc.)
  • An ERP platform (e-automate, SAP BusinessOne, Miracle Service, Microsoft Dynamics, ICE, etc.)
  • Strong Communications with Supply Partners
  • OEM asset Management

Other techniques employed include email feedback from and quarterly business reviews with customers, bi-weekly task force meetings with dealership staff (including sales, development and operations), regular report reviews and use of internally designed performance reviews.

… In Summary

To be sure, surveys are only snapshots of bigger concepts.  While we feel that this survey was largely inclusive, I am certain there are many strategies employed by other companies that work as well. 

That said; Survey participants indicated that it is imperative to have qualified people complete installations.  They also noted that someone should be designated to set up alerts, make and adjust threshold entries and enter email notification paths.  The survey input tends to reinforce the need for documented procedures.

Making sure devices are properly configured to report goes a long way to ensure the success of any monitoring program.  Certain devices need to have SNMP enabled, webpage access granted and/or device firmware updated in order for them to report accurate toner levels. Many of the respondents wrote that fleet management was another important consideration.  Knowing the fleet and how devices report, and then managing processes to ensure fulfillment takes place is a good way to make certain supply fulfillment remains profitable.  Adding regular report reviews and information recaps with customers helps to maintain customer satisfaction as well.

Without proper documentation, a staff to carry out the program and a means to make and track improvements, it would seem plausible that any program would be difficult to sustain.   One brave soul concluded, “because of the survey we are working on a Supply Management SOP.”  With that one entry, we believe the survey was beneficial; it opened eyes to topics that had not been considered.  It is our hope that others are doing this as well.

Thank you again, to all that participated and gave survey input.