Posted on –Thursday, May5, 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 TAKE Solutions parent company is a global technology solutions and service provider, with significant focus across two principal business areas – life sciences and SCM, with an almost even breakdown of revenues between these divisions (the company is listed on the Indian Stock Exchange).

My blog post first described TAKE Supply Chain’s genesis since its inception in 1994 as BPA Solutions, through its ClearOrbit phase from 2001 to 2007, and from the 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.”

Then, the article 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 of this blog series will continue with analysis of TAKE Supply Chain’s main product lines, in particular looking at the rest of the DDSN products and at its Demand-Driven Distribution & Fulfillment solutions (the second major product line).

TAKE Supply Chain’s SRM Suite

The remaining part of the DDSN product line isthe TAKE SRM suite, which provides suppliers with customer-facing solutions that enable transactions electronically in addition to managing the entire business process from creating requests for quotations (RFQs) to invoicing. This security-based SRM platform is the former ClearOrbit’s Xtended Process Control (X.PC) solution suite that has been deployed at some of the world’s largest companies to enable them to connect with tens of thousands of their suppliers.

Both EntComm’s Resonance ( now OneSCM, see Part 1) and ClearOrbit’s X.PC products had separate SRM capabilities with some common features. OneSCM is a multi-tenant SaaS solution with a strong messaging layer, whereas X.PC provided depth in collaborative demand planning, quality assurance (QA), supplier diversity, and control over shipment execution.

OneSCM has added the ability to address the growing preference for affordable ‘pay-as-you-go’ solutions. In the long term, the two SRM product sets are being merged into a single platform, with the best technical and functional features of each.

The X.PC offering helps businesses to effectively automate and thus achieve strategic benefits from their procure-to-pay (P2P) cycles, including the management of all interactions with suppliers and freight forwarders. The suite (available both on-premises and hosted) is a set of applications that automate collaborative business processes such as order and schedule replenishment, demand plan communications, accounts payable (A/P) settlement, drop-shipping management, etc.

Information uploads among participants can be done in their graphical user interface (GUI), via Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, or through the business-to-business (B2B) data and process exchange. X.PC solutions aim to solve the following all-too-common issues that come from error-prone and time-consuming manual processes ( many of which were mentioned in Part 1):

  • High procurement, receiving, and A/P costs
  • Invoice matching discrepancies
  • Payment delays and errors
  • Supplier claims and payment disputes
  • Errors not discovered until 30 – 45 days after the fact
  • Schedules wrong, delayed and/or not published
  • Commitments wrong, delayed and/or not communicated
  • High inventory, scrap, and rework due to excess purchases, fulfillment mistakes, and early shipments
  • Suppliers do not provide compliant shipping documents and labels
  • Orders are erroneously shipped to customers on credit hold
  • Order cancellations or changes not caught in time
  • Containers not clearly labeled, with duplicate, lost, or mislabeled shipments as a result
  • Missed delivery schedules due to late or incorrect shipments or long lead times
  • Buyers unable to control supplier fulfillment activities

The following electronically automated capabilities and practices that can come from deployments of multiple X.PC modules (as needed) come in handy with regard to addressing the aforementioned issues:

  • E-invoices created by the supplier eliminate re-keying
  • Item level tracking eliminates discrepancies
  • Exception management and formal schedule commitment by suppliers prevent mistakes
  • Automatic creation of bar code labels enables single scan receiving
  • Automatic notifications eliminate tedious mail, fax, email, and phone communications
  • Auto publishing eliminates delays and errors in schedules, commitments, and inventory
  • Automatic purchase order (PO) creation eliminates manual processes
  • Web-based communication promotes full visibility to all parties
  • Prevention of shipments of items that are no longer needed
  • Prohibited payments of items that are not properly labeled and validated
  • Validation of key conditions before shipment

In case of drop-shipping, or the ability of companies to direct orders to their vendors for direct shipment to customers (see my previous article entitled “Drop-Shipping—Internet Retailers’ “Little Helper”?”), when the material is shipped from the external (third-party) order fulfillment area, signals are sent to complete the financial transaction in the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) back-office enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Tight integration with the ERP systems allows required X.PC solutions (i.e., Demand Visibility, RFQ Collaboration, PO Collaboration, Contract Manufacturing Collaboration, etc.) to track, trace, and control the execution of every transaction, from the time the initial demand signal is generated through the P2P process to invoicing & payment.

This data- and process-based integration capability extends to any product returns, transaction reversals and/or credits. While X.PC products provide somewhat similar rules-based workflow solutions as Manhattan Associates, RedPrairie, and IBM Sterling Commerce (as analyzed in my recent blog series), TAKE Supply Chain seems to be focused more on extending a company’s business competencies through the supply chain rather than simply automating the antiquated fax/email procurement processes of the 1990s. In other words, the X.PC solutions tend to solve more complex needs in addition to enabling simple shipment visibility.

These products use a package tracking number-plate (PTN) label (token) to control the supplier and enforce governance throughout the relationship, instead of focusing purely on what happened and why (after the fact). This control allows customers to extend their company’s competitive advantages and internal governance throughout their value chain. Examples of scenarios delivered to this end include the following:

  • Freight management — preventing suppliers from expediting inbound shipments (but to rather send them at the customer’s convenience)
  • First article inspection — preventing unapproved material from loading up on the receiving dock
  • The controlled release solution — where the release of the token is tied to a particular work order, thus only allowing a supplier shipment when the shop floor needs it

More Recent DDSN Product Additions

Two new SaaS SRM products include a quality module to track part non-conformance and another that provides A/P collaboration with multi-tier visibility and communication for trading partners. The X.PC quality collaboration module provides a central location where users can review, document, and collaborate on a deviation found in the material. Suppliers can create a deviation request if a part fails to meet design and/or quality specifications. Suppliers can also determine which buyer and/or sourcing QA engineer should be assigned to and notified of the Supply Discrepancy Report (SDR).

DDSN is reportedly TAKE Supply Chain’s highest growing product line of late. While all the aforementioned products are packaged (out-of-the-box), TAKE Supply Chain will occasionally engage in creating custom-made solutions for special shipping confirmations and RFQ collaborations. The X.PC products currently support the following languages: English, Hungarian, Standard Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish (International).

TAKE Supply Chain’s Demand-Driven Distribution & Fulfillment Solutions

This product line is largely represented by the Enterprise Returns Management (ERM) suite, which in great part comes from the 2006 acquisition of eBoomerang’s reverse logistics capabilities. The ERM product has a Powered by SAP NetWeaver certification, while the company’s Supply Network Gateway composite application is a certified SAP xApp offering.

The ERM suite offers a comprehensive Web-based solution to automate the entire returns lifecycle, from return material authorization (RMA) creation to final product disposition. ERM provides the ability to capture, print, report, and analyze returns information, enabling quick response to quality or product design issues. Return process complexity and multi-customer requirements impact process efficiency and customer service.

The ERM suite processes transaction validation prior to execution and provides global item visibility to increase efficiency and eliminate costly mistakes across the extended supply network. The solution provides a competitive and strategic advantage because the improved efficiency gained from automating returns transactions reduces costs and maximizes value recovery. In addition, the offering can help companies to grow business (additional revenue stream) through new services. Other potential benefits can come from improved customer service and improved re-use of returned items.

ERM is available as either SaaS or on-premises and complements existing enterprise applications, such as ERP, SCM, customer relationship management (CRM), service parts planning, and warehouse management systems (WMS), and extends their capabilities for end-to-end management of reverse product flows and disposition.

The topics of reverse logistics and TAKE’s ERM solution deserve a series of article of their own, and look for it in the future. For now, it suffices to mention the following high-level capabilities of the product:

  • Warranty tracking across multiple customers
  • RMA creation and validation against customer’s ERP system
  • Staged receiving process to handle invalid returns
  • Rules-based case interrogation and disposition
  • Automated shipment/put-away with labeling
  • Warranty entitlement, service content, and call-center knowledge management (KM) are not TAKE Supply Chain’s areas of focus (compared to, say, Servigistics’ Service Lifecycle
  • Management [SLM] offering). The ERM solution is focused on materials management, i.e., managing the flow of the material and the disposition to minimize service costs and recover material value. ERM is not a field service solution either; it is designed for expediting receiving at the repair center and material movement within the repair center.

New Distribution & Fulfillment Product Additions

In addition, there are the following three new products for TAKE Supply Chain’s second product group: a WMS module, a channel management module, and an asset tracking and maintenance module. With Agile Warehouse Management from TAKE Supply Chain (in partnership with Foxfire), companies can gain real-time visibility into material movement and availability that allows them to accomplish more with existing resources.

Warehouse staff can use handheld data collection devices to continually update the record of materials entering and leaving the warehouse. Because updates occur in real-time (versus delayed batch updates or error-prone manual entries), companies know exactly how much inventory they have at any given moment and can better gauge their ability to meet changes in demand.

In addition to improving inventory visibility, Agile Warehouse Management also optimizes facility setup to make the smartest use of warehouse space and streamline traffic flow. Companies can realize greater efficiency in every facet of warehouse activity, from receiving and put-away to picking, packing and shipping.

We should note here that TAKE Supply Chain provides warehouse management using both its renowned Gemini mobile data collection and label printing solutions (to be explained in Part 3) to offer “WMS lite” solutions (such as inventory LPNs) and by partnering with Foxfire, based on customer needs. The key difference is that Gemini maintains real-time inventory accuracy through a real-time connection to ERP, where Foxfire WMS requires integration to the ERP data. Thus, not a large percentage of TAKE Supply Chain’s customers use the full set of WMS capabilities.

For its part, transportation management is provided only through services to create connections to other software solutions. For example, during an outbound shipment, external data can be pulled from manifesting systems or truck scheduling programs to facilitate outbound distribution. As a recap, the Agile Warehousing solution is designed for small, medium, and large warehouse needs, yet it also offers capabilities for start-ups as well as multi-site enterprises.

Asset Tracking & Maintenance and Channel Management

The Asset Tracking and Maintenance module improves ongoing visibility and control of asset investments by streamlining asset categorization and tracking. As companies create system records of their assets, they can assign physical locations using a hierarchy of categories (such as region, building, floor, and room) and a logical description (including department, cost center, and asset owner/custodian) that show how an asset is used.

Barcode or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags affixed to each asset simplify inventory and tracking, allowing workers to use handheld scanners to determine whether an asset is in the right place and identify “lost” assets. Workers can also easily transfer misplaced assets to the correct location or assign them to a current location, as well as reassign assets a new logical identifier, such as an employee or group.

Last but not least, the Channel Management module facilitates a collaborative exchange of information between the brand owner and its network of distributors. The module enables more proactive management of distribution networks by providing real-time visibility into secondary sales and inventory. The enterprise can thus monitor individual distributor activity as well as activity across an entire distribution network to optimize inventory deployment.

Channel Management also enforces compliance with pricing and inventory policies, as well as promotions such as coupons and discounts. Furthermore, it enhances the brand owner’s ability to track inventory in the event of a recall by providing visibility into each movement of goods. Because the brand owner knows the real-time status of all inventory throughout its distributor network, management can anticipate and respond to demand more effectively, while minimizing overstock and returns.

The latter two modules were previously available and deployed at parent TAKE Solutions’ customers internationally, but neither product has been rolled out to the US market until very recently. The new Asset Tracking and Maintenance module has replaced the erstwhile ClearOrbit functionality for asset management because it provides expanded fixed assets capabilities and addresses more than just Oracle ERP customers.

While all the aforementioned products in this group are packaged (out-of-the-box), TAKE Supply Chain will occasionally engage in making custom-made solutions for cross-docking and direct store delivery (DSD) management. The final part of this blog series will analyze TAKE Supply Chain’s remaining main product line: Mobile & Auto-ID Solutions (including Gemini). In the meantime, your comments, thoughts, suggestions, or individual experiences with the aforementioned SCM issues and accompanying solutions are more than welcome.




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