Michael Stevens of Integrated Fulfillment Management Services Inc. interviewed by VL 7 questions series on logistics and supply chain data integrations

7 Questions Logistics and Supply Chain Data Integration: Michael Stevens



The 7 Questions Interview Series: Logistics and Supply Chain Data Integration

The 7 Questions Interview Series: Logistics and Supply Chain Data Integration “The 7 Question Series” is an investigative content series where we seek out key leaders in a specific industry and/or subject matter expertise area and ask them 7 key questions that “enquiring minds want to know”. There is a twist however to these questions. We provide the person being interviewed with a hypothesis for each question. This helps to frame and set context for their answer.

Logistics and Supply Chain Data Integration Series Objectives:

Logistics and Supply Chain Data Integration Series Objectives: The objective of this series is to establish direct connections with Logistics and Supply Chain experts across the globe and ask them the same set of 7 questions regarding e-commerce data integration in the supply chain. We want to derive insights from their direct experiences and expertise that will help e-commerce companies, both B2B and B2C at all stages of their evolution. We are also curious to see if their answers are similar or different. These interviews will be featured on this website as a series.

Interview with Michael Stevens President, Integrated Fulfillment Management Services Inc.

About Michael Stevens


Michael Stevens began his career at a Marlin Lighting, a mid-sized UK based commercial lighting manufacturer. Over twelve years he gained experience in sales, project management and overseas operations.

Following a move to Canada in 1991, Michael joined Sprint Canada, at that time a new entrant into the recently deregulated telecommunications industry. During his time at Sprint, Michael flourished in a variety of roles including sales, marketing and operations. In 1999 he received his MBA from the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto.

Michael took over at Integrated Fulfillment in 2003. Since then he has focused on transforming the business from a regional player specializing in promotional material distribution to a broadly based national fulfillment company. Integrated now has locations in Toronto and Vancouver and services clients across a wide range of business segments.

The Interview:

Robin Smith:  We hear the terms B2C, B2B and now Omnichannel retailing. How are the changes taking place affecting the supply chain and logistics providers?
Michael: The changes necessitate an even greater degree of flexibility and investment. As a fulfillment partner we need to be able to expertly support our clients regardless of their target customer.  Often requirements can evolve with the business. We need to remain on top of requirements so that we continue to provide the best possible advice and support.
Robin Smith:  When would it be appropriate for a web based retailer to think about the benefits of integration ?
Michael: Assuming the web based retailer is expecting even the slightest measure of success, then immediately. Consider the alternative: Manual entry into your logistics partner’s web portal or in some cases the upload of a data file. This is often not only time consuming but also introduces delay into the order fulfillment process. This at a time when delivery expectations are becoming ever more immediate. In addition, once the order has been shipped, there may be further delay in uploading shipping information (tracking numbers, etc) and updating the web store. Potentially exacerbated should you have an eastern based company shipping out of western locations and not receiving updates until end of day in the west.
Integration can be relatively straightforward depending on the sophistication of you, your shopping cart or ERP. My advice would be – don’t wait. Get it done before you are stuck without it.
Robin Smith:  How important is the Logistics provider’s investment in technology and how does it affect the omnichannel customers’ ability to scale?
Michael: At the outset, it is likely that the logistics provider will be advanced relative to the omni-channel client’s needs – particularly if the client has selected a partner with a view to enhancing their current capabilities. Overtime however as the client grows so their requirements will change and potentially become more complex. The gap between what the logistics company originally offered and what the client now needs will narrow.
The logistics provider needs to ensure that it is capable of keeping their client ahead of their customer’s expectations. To that end the provider should be reviewing their processes, systems and technology on a regular basis, looking for improvement, making sure that they remain out in front. Failure to improve or invest in any of these key areas may ultimately result in the client requirements exceeding the logistics provider’s capabilities and creating a drag on the client’s ability to grow.
Robin Smith: We hear many web retailers are small businesses. What have you seen as indicators of success and the ability to scale versus those that can’t?
Michael: Successful web retailers invest the time in making sure there is a good fit with a potential logistics provider. They explain their requirements, test the potential providers comprehension, they make sure the company has the expertise appropriate to their company’s needs. They conduct site visits, take the time to understand the processes that will be employed and check references. Having completed the due diligence, they embrace their new partner’s expertise and advice, allowing the provider to integrate their order fulfillment into processes that are tried, tested and perhaps most importantly, scalable. Successful companies monitor key indicators but are prepared to step away from the detail. There is an element of trust. They measure success holistically and avoid the trap of picking through every transaction. They view the true measure of success to be whether overall the business is better off as a result of the partnership.
Robin Smith: As a web retailer’s supply chain gets more complex as they scale, how do they transition to more complex platforms to handle the growth without killing the business, what do you see as the pitfalls?
Michael: First, recognize and accept the limitations of your existing systems. Most entry level systems are designed to operate within a certain range above which they become less than optimal. View transition to a more robust solutions as a necessary step in the evolution of your businesses, an investment in the future. Failure to do so will almost certainly lead to higher costs in terms of manual work-arounds and missed opportunities.
Second, map out the components you expect to require. What will the business need, an ERP, CRM, middleware? Start to fill in the blanks in terms of potential vendors.
Third, decide the point at which you need to move and stick to it. Begin the planning well in advance, the last thing you need is having to make a move but not having he time to do the appropriate research.
Robin Smith: How complex can the integration requirements become as a web retailer scales?
Michael: Integration requirements can become very complex as a web retailer scales. In my opinion, there is a close correlation between size of web retailer and complexity of these requirements. Typically, as a business grows so simplicity gives way to complexity. More sales channels are employed, increasing the number of connections between sales platforms and the order management system. EDI may be required. Additional tools like CRM software are introduced to further accelerate new sales, combat competitive threats (brought on by increased visibility in the market place) and improve retention. To be truly effective systems must be integrated. The larger the business, the more systems, the more interconnection, the greater the complexity.
Robin Smith: Any advice on the logistics implications?
Michael: As a retailer scales so the diversity of customers can expand. With that expansion comes additional considerations.  Most common is the expansion of sales channels to include larger retailers. Most larger retailers use EDI and have stringent vendor requirements. Many have hefty fines for noncompliance. The addition of these types to channels drives additional expense. Make sure you consult your fulfillment partner before finalizing agreements with these types of customers. There will almost certainly be additional costs that you will be expected to assume.
About Integrated Fulfillment
Integrated Fulfillment Management Services Inc. (IFMS) is a full service fulfillment house with locations in Delta, near Vancouver BC, and Mississauga, near Toronto ON, Canada. Whatever your fulfillment requirements; pick and pack, internet fulfillment, project kitting, cross-border assistance, custom web portal development, we can help.

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