Supply-Chain Pain Points

Fresh an issue at foodservice IT user's conference

CHICAGO -- The industry is familiar with convenience-related forays into integration and electronic transactions with business partners. But what about foodservice?

With foodservice and distribution becoming more of an issue for petroleum retail and convenience store operators, one supplier of an electronic trading solution held a user's conference in Chicago to tackle the automation and standardization of trading processes.

Roughly 50 representatives from companies as diverse as Glendale, Calif.-based Nestle to Houston-based [image-nocss] SYSCO Corp. attended the two-day event, held at the O'Hare Hilton Wednesday and Thursday.

While attendees were mostly manufacturers and distributors, Robert Bonavito, CEO of iTradeNetwork (ITN), Livermore, Calif., said that electronic solutions to supply-chain pain points is of interest to all retailers, especially with regards to the problem of delivering fresh foods. He said solutions that bring trading partners together through the Internet or virtual private networks (VPNs) can help businesses be proactive and track and trace products more efficiently.

Within their hosted ASP (application service provider) model, users can apply different modules that can for instance, through global tracking devices, help monitor delivery trucks and reroute them to different distribution centers depending on changes in demand. Zia Zahiri, chief technical officer for ITN said that those systems can even relay truck refrigeration temperatures to flag any problems.

One of the main issues facing ITN and many of the participants in the conference was data synchronization. Much talk focused on the creation of a catalog that allowed users to access clean data, where information existed in a uniform and complete format. Another issue was the developing field of contract affirmation or ensuring the deal is agreed to among trading partners, according to Jim Stone, vice president of information services, Ben E. Keith Management Trust, Fort Worth, Texas. As a pilot client of ITN, Stone said much of the groundwork foundation is already laid for areas such as order management. Creating a firm, electronic platform around the area contract development and verification is the next challenge.

Others participants believed, however, that much work still needed to be done in areas of catalogs and data synchronization.

These and other electronic trading issues mirror those faced by the c-store industry. So as different facets of retail, such as foodservice and convenience, continue to merge, Rick Salvadore, chief business officer for ITN said he expects more participants from oil companies and c-store chains to attend future events. The benefits are too numerous, he noted. Marc Sokol of Nestle commented how an ASP like ITN can resolve numerous issues, with one example being distributor information updates. ITN can add itwithout us having to do it internally.