LCBO offers big dose of supply chain data through supplier portal

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is about two implement some of the final changes to an online system it has developed to allow its suppliers to submit new products for its retail stores.

The New Item Submission System (NISS) went live last year, but the LCBO is still tweaking the design. The changes will be implemented in two stages, the first of which will be done next month.

“They’re mostly cosmetic, it will make it easier to use the system,” said Basil Burger, an LCBO project manager who helped set up NISS.

The portal is open to LCBO suppliers in more than 70 countries. In the past, providers of wine, spirits, beer and other alcoholic beverages would have used a combination of mail, faxes, phone calls or e-mails to bring new products to the attention of LCBO staff, Burger said. Given that the LCBO conducted more than 400,000 tests on 18,000 products, it was important to automate the way both sides could track the submissions.

“This is a product that will keep the supplier informed of what was going on. Should their submission be rejected, they’ll know what were the reasons,” Burger said. “It also helps LCBO staff control the submissions. It was a simple system we had in place, but it wasn’t really applicable to the workload we were dealing with.”

NISS is being offered as a managed service though Toronto-based QLogitek, which also provides an on-call help desk for any suppliers who run into trouble with it, the firm’s vice-president Neel Sharma said.

“This is a system that can tie a process that has four or five discrete steps all together into one to get complete visibility,” he said, adding that the LCBO is an early adopter of the idea of using software-as-a-service around collaborative portals. “There aren’t too many companies that are doing that today.”

The LCBO brought in suppliers during the design process to offer their feedback on the portal, and included members of each department as well, Burger said. After some initial problems, NISS has been running smoothly but has gone through a number of modifications, he said.

“It’s like a house — until you’ve lived in it, you don’t know if you like it or not,” he said.

In the long term, Sharma said the LCBO would benefit from the software-as-a-service model because it allows for very quick development cycles and the release of new functionality within days and weeks, avoiding a lot of complexities.

“At a very high level, the supply chain is a fairly generic process,” he said. “When you start getting into the layers of detail, however, the difference between how people buy and consume products varies across organizations.”

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