Procurement and supply chain management within a rapid response environment

Procurement and supply chain management within a rapid response environment

I’ve often said, somewhat provocatively, that e-procurement doesn’t work. It does work of course but often only in the most straight forward of environments. Keeping the stationery cupboard stocked up isn’t the most challenging of business situations and even when you can address lots of spend, getting people to comply is a change management challenge that, in some corporate cultures, is impossible to overcome. Step outside of the office and you face new challenges. How, for example, do you implement a P2P system on a remote construction site where there isn’t even a a phone signal never mind a computer network?

These are a couple of examples of the real world situations that are faced by many businesses but they are trivial compared to some where the ability to get goods and services promptly to where they are needed is more than a business issue, it’s a matter of life and death.

Purchasing Insight logoI’m sure I’m not the only one who was moved to tears at some of the stories of bravery and indeed heroism confronted by the devastating hurricane that struck Oklahoma this week. Stories of people standing up to the power of nature to protect themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors and of people risking their lives to rescue those missing, not resting until all were accounted for. And being proud to be Oklahoman, standing steadfast in the face of the certainty that one day this is going to happen again. But behind the headline grabbing stories is a one less told of the enormous logistically challenges that need to be overcome to get vital supplies to a community left with nothing. Power, water, communication infrastructure, food, water, medical supplies, all need to be sourced and delivered urgently. What a contrast to the business environments most of us are fortunate enough to operate within.

Procurement and supply chain management within a rapid response environment

This kind of scenario is familiar to Apptricity. Based out of Irving Texas, Apptricity have been delivering business solutions since 1999.  Their premise is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and their solution set is quite extensive. But when I first spoke to them a couple of weeks ago I was, frankly, underwhelmed. Their offerings seems no different from other vendors it seemed – that is until they started to describe to me some of the use cases for their products.

I’m very familiar with the run-of-the-mill e-procurement implementations in financial services. I’ve had quite a lot of exposure to hard core supply chain systems in retail. I’ve seen e-procurement operated from a buy-side perspective as well as the sell side and I’ve operated on both sides of the procurement/finance divide. But I’ve never been where Apptricity operates. Take as an example an army unit in an active war zone in the furthest corner of the back of beyond requesting urgent supplies. This is how it’s done. Using a portable purchasing app, a soldier can request delivery of goods even when out of reach of any communication infrastructure. Orders are queued and when a satellite passes overhead, the order messages are despatched.  A few hours later a C130 drops a palette for the unit to collect. That’s pretty impressive and it’s powered by Apptricity.

Take as another example, the offshore oil rig. A pump malfunction could mean losses of $millions worth of oil if a replacement cannot be source quickly. It’s not just a matter of ordering the pump, it’s vital to find where in the nearest replacement is. Apptricity supply chain solution set provides visibility into the virtual warehouse of complex supply chains providing a way to optimize sourcing and delivery.

What impresses me about Apptricity is not their technology promises or their glossy website. It’s not their branding or marketing messages – it’s what they have actually delivered.

Disaster areas, war zones, remote and dangerous places – these are the truly challenging environments where the timely delivery of things like medical supplies, water and shelter is critical. It is these places and situations where a P2P system is tested to the limit. And surely, if it can deliver in these circumstances, it can deliver anywhere.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin