Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) systems came into vogue in the 1990’s as a way to decrease supply chain costs. Unfortunately, inventory crises left many manufacturers greatly disappointed when their new systems did not create the promised return on investment. Robert Schoenthaler, VP of SC solutions at KPMG Consulting Inc. has pointed out, “The lesson learned in supply chain management is that it is a journey, not something that can be solved in a single project. In the 1990s there was an explosion of growth in planning tools. Now the question of ‘how do I execute’ is becoming more important.”
VMI is not a perfect solution to inventory problems. Susan Cohen Kulp, a researcher at Harvard University, recently finished a study on the relationship between VMI systems and higher profits. Not surprisingly, she found that implementation does not always return better results than a traditional supplier relationship. Her study found that information precision and reliability, combined with an effective sharing mechanism, were the key factors in obtaining higher supply chain profits.
So, how do you implement a successful VMI system?
- COMMUNICATE expectations of all parties. Customers and suppliers must make the effort to sit down and discuss the goals and objectives of implementing VMI. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. Both parties’ hardware and software requirements must be identified, and an understanding must be reached in terms of how both companies’ systems will communicate. Then a plan for implementation must be mapped, specifically identifying each party’s financial and other responsibilities.
- Customer must commit to sharing PRECISE information. Suppliers must have visibility into the customer’s internal sales and inventory information. Without accurate data, ability to quickly meet demand will be impaired.
- Suppliers must ensure RELIABLE transmission, receipt, and use of information. To facilitate step 2, the supplier must be able to guarantee that the customer’s trusted information will be communicated, received, and utilized securely and thoroughly to meet the designated needs. Time should be spent during the planning phase discussing information precision and reliability.
- Sufficiently TEST systems before going live. As with any new system, testing will uncover any bugs or inefficiencies and can help to avoid future headaches.
- Expect implementation to be a PROCESS not a project. Remember that there is no on/off switch. Adjustments will have to be made as demand levels fluctuate, and no system will be perfect 100% of the time.
- Plan to spend sufficient TIME AND MONEY to make it work. Most successful VMI systems we’ve read about took 2-2.5 years to put into operation, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for IT and training. Spending (or finding) the time to create a comprehensive system can be a challenge.