SMEs are missing links in the supply chain

26 Oct 2005

Compliance regulations that demand greater supply chain visibility, such as the EU Food Law that came in last January, will help drive RFID standards adoption, according to speakers at yesterday’s GS1 Dublin event, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

GS1, the body that established a new global standard governing the transmission of data between RFID tags and readers back in February, used its supply chain conference to increase awareness of fast-emerging technologies that are not always embraced in Ireland.

John Mee, supply chain director at Hy-Tech Logistics, a technology company that specialises in warehouse management software, has first-hand experience at the coalface. “I see huge paper-laden trails flowing through the distribution process,” he told “SMEs are a little blinkered and uneducated; sometimes they tend to operate in a business silo and don’t see the connectivity forwards and backwards. They don’t always understand what optimal supply chain management is about. That’s where GS1 comes in, helping educate them.”

Jim Bracken, director of GS1 Ireland, said SME adoption was a problem across Europe but remained optimistic that adoption would increase, largely driven by retailers that will expect their suppliers to follow them into more efficient processes.

Spencer Marlow, marketing director of e-business specialist Sterling Commerce, believed the SME sector is vital to the bigger picture. “The volume and value will only reach across the entire supply chain when SMEs engage and for that to happen the complexity has to be removed.”

He said supply chain improvement was as much about the evolution of business process networks as technology and identified data quality in the as one of the biggest obstacles. Peter Jordan, director of international business-to-business strategy for Kraft Foods, picked up the theme. He talked of the need for “data synchronisation”, ensuring that retailer and supplier were sharing the same product information. When it goes wrong, fast-moving goods end up on slow-moving shelves, for example, and the supply chain starts to falter.

He talked about Kraft’s latest undertaking, building a data pool that pushed the information on to the retailer. “We’ve spent 25 years trying to get hold of decent EPOS [electronic point of service] data from retailers,” he said. “Building a data pool is complicated, with huge difficulties, so start now!”

By Ian Campbell