The Way We’ve ALWAYS Done It …
We informally poll DOD suppliers when we discuss WAWF automation with them. Typically they tell us that the same data is entered 5-7 times per shipment, and multiple times for labels on different levels of packaging. Redundant data entry increases costs and likelihood for error. It’s also tedious!
Let’s outline a typical scenario without any kind of integration or automation for a DOD supplier. It starts with the ERP or financial system, which typically does not have capabilities to automatically receive contract data from the government. Type it in. Next a stand alone labeling system is used to create the container labels. Type it in. Repeat for each packaging
level (unit, intermediate, exterior, pallet…). Don’t forget RFID tags. Type it in. Need forms? Type it in. Invoice and Receiving Report in WAWF? Type it in.
Same data-typed and re-typed.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Does this mean that DOD suppliers have cornered the market on inefficiency? Absolutely NOT. For years and years it made sense for suppliers to operate in these silo function areas. The process was simple and easy to support. If forms were required, people used a typewriter or word processor. For labels? Just roll a sheet into the typewriter or use a computer to copy and change the labels you used last time.
With this type of process in place, these systems grew up organically over the years. Suppliers met the few requirements in place with the simplest method possible and added new methods as needed.
The demands on DOD suppliers have changed dramatically in the past few years. We can break this down into two broad areas-eCommerce and Serialization.
eCommerce means the DOD wants your data electronically –
Doing business with the DOD is increasingly electronic. Nearly gone is the dependence on paper for contracting, receiving, invoicing, and payment. Instead, the DOD wants to communicate with suppliers via electronic transactions.
Of course, suppliers can receive electronic transactions, print them out, and pretend things are as they were. They can use their paper to read from while they type data back into government systems, such as WAWF. How you handle the data within your four walls is up to you. But the fact remains that DOD commerce is eCommerce and suppliers can adapt or find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
Serialization means the DOD wants detailed information about your shipment –
Serialization requirements fall into two groups-parts and packages. And to make it more challenging there is some overlap between the requirements for serialization of parts and packages.
Serialization of parts isn’t anything new. What is new is the requirement for globally unique part serialization and for the requirement to store serialization data in a central data system. We are talking about the UID (Unique Identification) requirement.
This requirement is only for certain parts being sold to the DOD, but when it is required it means that suppliers have to apply a permanent serial number to the part, apply the serial number to the outside of the shipping container, and register the serial number with the UID Registry (directly to the UID Registry or through WAWF). This has to be done for each and every part under the UID mandate. Marking and registration also has to be done for some sub-components of UID parts.
That’s a lot of data, long lists of it. And these long lists of data have to be created and used during manufacturing, packaging, invoicing, and shipping.
Serialization of containers for DOD is relatively new. The RFID mandate means each case and pallet requires a unique serial number and these serial numbers must be submitted to the DOD. A typical RFID tag has a 24-digit string of letters and numbers, which is not something easily memorized and prone to data entry error. Depending on your business, you can have 10s, 100s or 1000s of these data strings to enter each day.
Parts and Packages Serialization Overlap –
Notice that we said that both part and package serial numbers must be submitted to the DOD. Actually, when both the UID and the RFID mandate apply to a shipment not only do UID and RFID have to be submitted, they have to be cross-referenced. So the supplier must describe which UID parts are in which RFID package on which RFID pallet (if applicable).
We illustrate this point in our eBook DOD Supplier Guide.
Is the case for automation becoming clear?
It is not that you cannot operate manually, you can. If your volume dictates a manual process and that process enables your business to reach its objectives, then a manual process may be best for you. However, the digital age is here to stay with the US Department of Defense, and its eBusiness initiatives will continue to grow.