No discussion of E-commerce is complete without a look at what the Defense Department is doing. That effort has resulted in the construction of the DOD E-mail. "Mall shoppers are able to browse through commodities corridors sponsored by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)..." and other agencies.12 It is now possible for small units to make purchases of over-the-counter items through an E-mail.
The advantages are many and include lower inventory levels, lower contracting costs, and, in most cases, quicker resupply. The Army is implementing what it calls a Revolution in Military Logistics (RML). They are looking to replace masses of supply with speed of delivery. They look at it as replacing mass with speed. They are looking at using the inventory that is in the supply chain as a resource, thus reducing the need for fixed storage points and the requisite unnecessary rehan-dling of supplies. Knowledge of where everything is in the supply chain will be accomplished by the use of electronic bills of lading and tracking devices on the loads, all linked through a network of satellites. Thus, a maintenance officer using diagnostic equipment on board a tank who identifies that it is likely to experience an engine failure can order a replacement engine to be delivered from the supply chain directly to the maintenance team that will perform the repair. This increases the speed at which the repair is made and reduces the handling. This is accomplished within the military's existing and near-term communications networks.
On a recent visit to Kennedy Space Center, I learned that NASA was developing a new class of space vehicle. The first of the series of three is "Leonardo," which is much like a truck. It is hauled up inside a shuttle and docked with the space station to be offloaded as required. For those of us who have experienced some time in the service of our country, you might see Leonardo as the next step in line transportation storage containers that includes Conex containers and Sea Land vans.
IS EDI DEAD?
The simple answer is no. There are many things that can be done to extend the life of EDI. From Internet front ends, to the use of Extranets, EDI will never really die. It will have a life. I compare the future of EDI to that of travel by rail. How many of you have traveled by rail in the last year? Rail travel around the world is strong, but in the United States it survives only because the government has stepped in to operate it. As a result, only a few markets are served. The number of people using rail as their primary mode of travel will continue to drop. Rail as a mode of travel may never disappear, but the percentage of passenger miles it represents will continue to drop. EDI will follow the same pattern.
".. .instead of replacing EDI.. .the Internet will augment EDI usage among shippers and carriers. ...the Internet will coexist with and complement these commercial providers well into the 21st century."13
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
As I said last year at this time, we as users can still direct the major software suppliers. The industry is in its infancy. I believe that many of the ERP suppliers are still looking for direction from the users. We are in a unique position to guide them into producing the type of software functionality that we need. I have been in the field for almost 30 years and have never seen anything like this. I recommend you determine what software functionality you need and, through your software user groups, continue to drive those requests home to the major suppliers.
While discussing the future of E-commerce recently with some associates, Bruce A. Thake of Lakewood, Colorado, said, "Once Y2K is behind us, E-commerce will explode." I wholeheartedly agree. The expansion we have seen in the past year will be nothing compared to the future. It is essential that we be prepared for this burst of activity.
A few years ago, APICS sponsored an International Conference in San Antonio whose theme was "Business is War—Prepare to Win." As I have pointed out in the past, in war there is no second place; you must win. While business is not as harsh as war, you still must win. Position yourself to win in the next millennium—use supply chain management and E-commerce.
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