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Global Supply Chain Management System for Better Visibility

By Anthony DeCanti, Chief Information Officer & SVP, UniGroup

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Anthony DeCanti, Chief Information Officer & SVP, UniGroup

UniGroup, a global relocation, transportation and logistics leader, is the parent company of United Van Lines, Mayflower Transit, UniGroup Logistics, UniGroup Relocation and Sterling Relocation. Approximately700 independent U.S. agents and more than 1,000 service centers in 180 countries represent the UniGroup brands. For decades, UniGroup, its subsidiaries and local agents have provided global supply chain solutions. With such a massive domestic and global footprint UniGroup Logistics was in need of a solution to make reporting and visibility to products easier for its local agents and customers.

In October 2012 UniGroup committed to providing these solutions with the creation of a new global supply chain management system. The system would consist of a warehouse management and transportation management system. This platform would create the capability to manage global supply chain projects while providing visibility to customers and creating a highly collaborative environment for agents.

At a high-level, the Warehouse Management System (WMS) allows for the management of inventory in and out of a warehouse. WMS generally provides the capability to manage multiple customers and projects. On the inbound side, the WMS is alerted to products/shipments through purchase orders or advance ship notices. The WMS receives the product into inventory using a receipt. This lists the individual items and the quantities received. There are numerous services that can take place inside the warehouse like kitting, assembly, crating, etc. This work is accounted for and eventually billed using a work order. Product leaves the WMS through a shipping order. This tells the warehouse what items to pick and ship. The WMS is usually integrated with the customer’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and their vendors/suppliers.

The Transportation Management System (TMS) manages commodities (packaged shipments). The TMS provides visibility and management capabilities for shipments moving from one point to another. The TMS can optimize mode of transportation and support carrier selection. The TMS utilizes a house bill or Bill Of Lading (BOL) to represent what the customer has requested and a load or manifest to represent how the house bill or BOL will be serviced and by what service provider. A TMS can be integrated with a customer’s ERP system and numerous transportation service providers.

UniGroup started with the development of the WMS capabilities. Prior to the development of the new supply chain management systems, UniGroup utilized Java, but not in a truly open sense. Java code was being deployed on the company’s main frame using IBM WebSphere as the application server. With the new system, UniGroup decided to go completely open source. The company used a technology stack consisting of the RedHat Linux operating system, PostgreSQL database, JBoss application server, Java Spring libraries and BootStrap MVC for the user interface layer. These open source technologies allowed UniGroup to develop a product that could be distributed to its agents without being saddled with licensing costs.

With its internal technology stack identified, the next order of business was to select best in class third-party products to minimize the amount of custom development necessary. The biggest question was whether UniGroup needed an on premise solution or a cloud-based solution - in some cases the on premise solution provided the performance or security requirements that were needed and in others, the only solution offered was in the cloud. In the end, UniGroup was able to find solid supporting products.

One of the most important third-party products UniGroup implemented for the newsupply chain management system was IBM Integrator (formerly Sterling). This product is critical in managing UniGroup’s information exchange and is the enterprise gateway to customers, partners and service providers. The company also implemented CT Logistics’FreitRater, a rating engine to perform all of the rating related functions. ALK’s PC Miler is being utilized to perform all of the mileage calculation services, and UniGroup is using Melissa Data for address validation. UniGroupis implementing ESRI as its Geographic Information Systems platform and Rand McNally for electronic logging devices that will let UniGroup know where its trucks are and the drivers’ available hours and the ability to plot them on a map.

In April of this year, the first customer began using the new system to manage a distribution project in approximately 70 warehouses. UniGroup is now adding more customers to the WMS platform. By combining open source technology to support its internal development and integrating thirdparty products with this internal core,UniGroup is able to provide enhanced capabilities to its agents and customers.

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