Taking Stock of TAKE Supply Chain Solutions – Part 3
Posted on - Monday, May 23, 2011 By Technology Evaluation Centers
Filed Under (Supply Chain Logistics, Industry Observation) by P.J. Jakovljevic (see bio)
Part 1 of this blog series introduced TAKE Supply Chain, a supply chain management (SCM) division of TAKE Solutions, Ltd. The parent TAKE Solutions is a global technology solutions and service provider, which focuses on two principal business areas – life sciences and SCM (the company is listed on the Indian Stock Exchange).
My first post described TAKE Supply Chain’s genesis since its inception in 1994 as BPA Solutions, through its ClearOrbit phase from 2001 to 2007, and finally from TAKE Solutions’ ownership on. Throughout all these changes, the company’s mission has remained intact: “To improve the speed, visibility and control of extended manufacturing and distribution value chains.”
Part 1 also analyzed TAKE Supply Chain’s current product lines, starting with Demand-Driven Supply Network (DDSN) solutions. The first DDSN offering was OneSCM, which is an online supplier relationship management (SRM) platform that features multi-tier, multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) architecture and is designed for mid- to large-sized manufacturers and distributors.
Part 2 continued with the analysis of TAKE Supply Chain main product lines, in particular the Xtended Process Control (X.PC) SRM suite within the DDSN product line and the Enterprise Returns Management (ERM) suite within Demand-Driven Distribution & Fulfillment solutions (TAKE’s second major SCM product line). The final part of this blog series will now address TAKE Supply Chain’s remaining product line: Mobile & Auto-ID Solutions, and will discuss the company’s competitive landscape.
TAKE’s Mobile Applications and Auto-ID Solutions
As mentioned in Part 1, TAKE Supply Chain has more than 15 years of experience and knowledge in developing data capturing solutions for receiving and shipping in manufacturing plants and warehouses using wireless handheld barcode scanners. Also known as the Gemini data collection and process automation product set, this has been the core line of business (LOB) and revenue contributor since the company’s launch in 1994.
The company’s Gemini mobility solutions were first sold in 1994. Many of the customers who started using Gemini transactions in the 1990s were core to the former ClearOrbit business, which TAKE Solutions acquired in 2007. Additionally, TAKE Supply Chain has leveraged its device integration knowledge to connect enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to various devices such as printers, scales, carousels, conveyer belts, and pick-to-light systems, gathering and transacting data with the ERP system in real time. There are also advanced capabilities in each area to support basic or “lite” warehouse management system (WMS) needs (as mentioned in Part 2), such as guided put-away and picking as well as streamlined manufacturing and shipping processes that hide the complexities of the ERP system.
Since its very first customer, TAKE Supply Chain has provided nimble and concise transactions that enable Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) and SAP ECC (ERP Central Component) users to conduct receiving, inventory, production, and shipping transactions through radio frequency (RF) handheld terminals. Real-time integration with Oracle or SAP ERP systems ensures no duplicate data or complex integration. The solution also includes base transactions and a platform for rapid configuration to meet specific customer requirements as well as integrated rules-based barcode labeling and RF Identification (RFID) tag generation (although the company has admittedly seen very little use from its customers for the RFID technology).
With its Gemini solutions, TAKE Supply Chain has been able to rapidly deliver new custom-like execution solutions as standard supported products with an upgrade path, which is an attractive alternative to traditional cumbersome customizations and integrations. Moreover, the product’s architecture provides an ability to enable industry-specific solutions without modifications to the base ERP systems. Additionally, the vendor now provides embedded voice recognition (VR) solutions in its stack of mobile data collection applications (the Gemini Voice Transactions edition) to enable manufacturers to use guided picking via hands-free technology (frequently desirable in harmful process manufacturing environments).
TAKE Supply Chain provides Microsoft .NET graphic user interface (GUI)-based and Telnet-based mobile solutions for Oracle and SAP ERP systems. For SAP, the vendor has a partner technology written in the .NET platform, upon which TAKE builds its business logic and provides the ERP data connects to SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP PI) or SAP IDoc’s (Intermediate Documents) to communicate to SAP ERP. TAKE’s Gemini products are available in English, Spanish, German, and French, while other languages can be added ad hoc by TAKE’s consulting partners.
The Gemini for Oracle’s “Secret Sauce”
For sure, TAKE Supply Chain has had the most expertise and customers in Oracle database and ERP environments. There are the following Gemini for Oracle editions: Discrete Manufacturing, Process Manufacturing, WMS/MSCA (Mobile Supply Chain Applications), and Fixed Assets. There is direct communication into the ERP system interfacing directly to Oracle’s open application programming interfaces (APIs) or its open interface tables.
It is interesting to note that Oracle does not have the ability to print shipping labels directly from within its MSCA or WMS solutions. Oracle rather hands that task off to partners, whether TAKE Supply Chain or other third party providers. Printing is handled via an extensible markup language (XML) file output written to the file system. Upon a file creation, the label printing software will pick up the file, convert the file to the appropriate print language (e.g., IPL, ZPL, MPL, etc) and issue the print instruction to the device defined in the XML.
Gemini for Oracle, on the other hand, communicates to the label printer directly from the mobile device in any of the following three methods: LP Print Service, DirectNet Solutions, and brokered. LP Print Service will post the print to the Unix/Linux LP Queue to process the print. DirectNet, instead, will communicate to the printer via a socket connection, whereas brokered is a small software package designed to sit on Microsoft Windows-compliant printers and monitor a print queue to broker the print request to a Windows setup printer.
Each label printing method has its value, but for high volumes (say, 300,000 prints per day or higher), TAKE suggests LP or DirectNet as these methods are designed to support such volumes. TAKE Supply Chain also provides software to pick up other systems label requests and process them through its LP, DirectNet, and brokered communication channels.
The company has used this approach for both Oracle and SAP customers. SAP ERP and Oracle MSCA/WMS customers can use Gemini and handle any level of volume, with 2D, 3D, or RFID labels. TAKE Supply Chain’s CEO was quoted saying during the company’s user conference a few years back:
“We use labels as the currency required to move goods. This ensures that the back-end IT systems have continuous real-time visibility of the process.”
Based on this core competency, customers have been using other TAKE Supply Chain solutions for inventory management, electronic lot control, drop-ship management, supplier collaboration, product returns, and so on and so forth. In addition to its own Agile Warehousing module (mentioned in Part 2), with Gemini for Oracle, TAKE Supply Chain can also leverage WMS capabilities within Oracle, such as defined warehouses and picking policies. Gemini for Oracle offers transactions that combine separate standard Oracle MSCA or WMS transactions into one easy step, such as from Work in Process (WIP) Complete - Pack to Label Plate Number (LPN) Printed – Ship.
In general, TAKE Supply Chain’s arsenal provides last-mile execution functionality by optimizing key supply chain activities while leveraging a customer’s existing enterprise system instead of duplicating it. Proven success in the real world, extensive experience, and knowledge of industry-specific processes and issues allow TAKE Supply Chain employees to provide solutions that have an immediate impact on the customer’s bottom line.
With whom TAKE Supply Chain might compete depends on what direction and solution its potential customers are seeking. From the discussion thus far it is obvious that the company offers a broad range of SCM solutions and the there are many software companies it could directly or indirectly compete with, again depending on the particular SCM problem the customer might be experiencing.
Examples of potential competitors can include Ariba, E2Open, Exostar, Metrix, Manhattan Associates, HihgJump, JDA Software, Teradata, Oracle, Crossgate, and SAP, to name only a few. TAKE Supply Chain does not go head-to-head with any particular vendor per se, and it is its supply chain expertise and ability to configure its software to map to the customer’s specific business to solve that final bit of SCM complexity that wins in the end.
What makes the vendor better than the competition is that unlike many other disconnected SCM systems that run off proprietary third-party databases or require custom interfaces, TAKE Supply Chain solutions integrate directly to common ERP (Oracle and SAP) platforms, in real time, using standard interfaces. This approach fully leverages the setups, tolerances, and profiles already defined in ERP deployments, thus minimizing implementation, training, and ongoing support costs. In addition, data accuracy and integrity are not compromised, providing the responsiveness and control manufacturers require for managing high-velocity supply chains.
TAKE offers similar solutions to those of E2Open and Crossgate, perhaps not to the extent of multi-tier network visibility and supply chain event management (SCEM), but it also offers the same type of solutions both on a license basis and hosted by the customer. In addition, in the case of the SAP Information Interchange by Crossgate offering, Crossgate is closely tied to SAP due to SAP’s partial ownership, while TAKE Supply Chain has solutions that can be either tightly integrated to Oracle and SAP or loosely integrated and largely agnostic to the backend system.
As an anecdotal example of why TAKE Supply Chain wins deals, when the company was competing for the business at what is now one of its largest clients, a Fortune 100 company, TAKE Supply Chain participated in a demonstration “bake-off” against SAP, Oracle, and several other major SCM players. The customer’s team had up to 15 Six Sigma “black belt” holders and “master black belt” holders in attendance who were responsible for making the decision.
After two grueling “show me” days, TAKE Supply Chain received the majority of votes because it could demonstrate stronger processes around procure-to-pay (P2P) and quality deviation/corrective action practices. The vendor successfully demonstrated a superior ability to control external partners through its tight integration of the physical material actual locations to the logical data.
This integration allows additional control mechanisms to be placed on the external partners such as: freight expediting controls, first article inspection, and countless other business-impacting processes (as described in Part 2). And to reiterate from Part 1, unlike other players in the value chain collaboration segment, TAKE offers customers an end-to-end solution – where supplier collaboration, compliance labeling, shipment controls, package tracking, electronic invoice presentment and payment (EIPP), accounts payable (A/P) automation, and workflow management can all be addressed using an integrated out-of-the-box solution from one vendor.
Not Yet in the Retail Space
TAKE Solutions’ supply chain division has traditionally offered solutions which enable manufacturers and distributors to orchestrate the movement of goods through an extended supply network, which complement existing enterprise applications to eliminate inefficiencies in supply chain, warehousing, data collection, and reverse logistics. Since TAKE Supply Chain solutions have focused on manufacturing and distribution, the vendor has not yet targeted the retail sector with its solutions.
The vendor provides solutions for distributed order management (DOM), collaborative solutions extending supply chain visibility, reverse logistic solutions, etc. that help companies fulfill their orders the best possible way and that work within the warehouse, thus creating outbound shipments. But customers of TAKE are in the Manufacturing and Distribution sector, where the concept of allocation and fulfillment of cross-channel orders is less prevalent compared to retailers (see my recent blog on retailers’ multi-channel order fulfillment needs).
TAKE Supply Chain has a rules-based DOM logic built into its product suite that allows administrators to configure “if” conditions and “then” results to meet complex business requirements for creating and labeling shipments and other warehouse activities. But it is not ‘event-driven’ like the solutions from, say, Manhattan Associates or IBM Sterling Commerce, but is instead data-driven.
The product’s tight integration with real-time ERP data allows it to use this method of selecting the correct outcome for the current situation. Still, there are examples of manufacturers using TAKE’s DOM solution, but it is towards shipping containers to retailers (rather than fulfilling multi-channel consumer orders). The number of items placed on a pallet and the labeling vary depending on the organization receiving the shipment.
The formation of TAKE Supply Chain has since provided an expanded SCM application set to support the needs of global customers. The company has been adding employees, especially in India, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific in product development, solution architecture, sales, and marketing.
Look for the company to continue to focus on providing supply chain execution (SCE) tools that augment companies’ existing investments in their IT systems. All too often, enterprises use their ERP systems as their system of record, while the TAKE Supply Chain applications provide a real-time front-end layer for their trading partner transactions.
While there could be a synergy between TAKE’s two divisions due to a burgeoning ePedigree initiative in pharmaceuticals and due to a dearth of sourcing and SRM initiatives in the life sciences sector, the challenge will be to even logically (if not physically) merge these different divisions (with their different areas of expertise) into a more cohesive unit (rather than operating distinctly as separate business groups). The vendor should also address simplifying the positioning of its abundance of products, if not necessarily bringing these disparate products together onto a single (converged) code base.
Dear readers, what do you think of TAKE Solutions’ strategy as outlined in this series? Your comments, thoughts, suggestions, or individual experiences with the aforementioned SCM issues and accompanying TAKE Supply Chain solutions are more than welcome.