NEW ORLEANS — Bell Canada is nearing the end of a three-year supply chain management project to help the carrier more efficiently track the cable, plug-ins and equipment used by more than 4,000 field service technicians.
three-pronged initiative is using enterprise portal software to link Bell with both the external installation company and the third-party logistics firm that helps the carrier lay cable in Ontario and Quebec. It also involves replacing an aging asset management system and creating another portal to compare the demand for equipment by field technicians against how much of its inventory is actually used.
Until recently, a Bell engineer would send a request for some cabling work to a contractor who would order the cable from a warehouse, which would be shipped to the installation firm. The portal has replaced this largely manual process and is being used by the contractors and logistics firms, as well as Bell.
“”We really had no visibility in the supply chain once the material had left the warehouse,”” said Don Pumphrey, Bell Canada’s general manager of supply chain engineering. “”You couldn’t ask anybody and say, ‘Where is the cable today?'””
Pumphrey made his comments at SAPPHIRE 2004, SAP’s user conference. Bell has been using SAP since 1999 and is deploying its supply chain, portal and material management tools to solve some of its problems.
Bell has already saved $3 million in the four months since the portal went live, Pumphrey said, because it has been able to redeploy excess cable that wasn’t needed to fulfill some orders. The excess used to remain with the contractor, but Bell can now get a credit for materials that aren’t used.
“”We knew there would be some barriers to adoption, so we let the users design the interface,”” said Brian Van Kessel, manager of the SAP Centre of Expertise with Montreal-based CGI which has been working with Bell on its supply chain projects. “”One of the problems with disparate systems is that when you’re doing something you have to go from screen to screen to screen. With this, there’s only one screen and you’re done.””
There were too many interfaces in the asset management system Bell was using to keep tabs on its 17 million plug-in computer cards, Van Kessel said. Converting from one system to another required a large project team and considerable cost, which was why Van Kessel said it was important to get Bell’s senior managers to sign off on the resources required before it began. The two companies also set up a weekly teleconference every Wednesday that used a scorecard to track performance.
“”We weren’t just scoring ourselves — we were also dealing with companies that weren’t within Bell,”” he said. “”They were using the scorecards, too.””
Bell is projecting $50 million in savings over a three-year period by having a better sense of what plug-ins are in stock and what’s being used.
The final leg of the initiative, dubbed Customer Order Optimum Linkage or COOL, is taking longer than expected, in part because of the number of technicians involved. If COOL is successful, those technicians will be able to search the portal to see if core components they need for cabling projects are available at a nearby location or at another technician in the vicinity, rather than ordering it from any one of several different systems. The carrier wants technicians to reuse more material and find it more locally to keep costs down.
Pumphrey said the portal has been rolled out to approximately 2,200 technicians so far, but scheduling the required training has been a challenge. “”We started in the summer, but with the summer vacation workload, there were some people who just couldn’t be pulled off,”” he said. “”Since then I’ve gone from summer vacations to hunting season and fishing season.””
Van Kessel said future projects may see Bell use radio frequency identification tags and geographic information systems to track plug-ins and other materials used in cabling projects.