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When the ball is fumbled, that doesn't mean the game is lost. Somebody else may have to pick it up and run with it. Their capability might just save the day. And so it was with a contract that Pilot Freight Services had with its client, a provider of installation and maintenance services for satellite and broadcasting communications equipment. A project to install digital signage and antenna systems at thousands of convenience stores across the United States had completely bogged down. Pilot and United Service Source Inc. were brought in mid-project to get everything back on track.
More and more, retailers of every description are realizing their customers are captive audiences for the time they shop in their stores. So they are installing digital screens - TVs - in their premises, generally to run in-store specials. Sometimes they carry local weather and news as well. Such equipment often has to be specially programmed up front before installation.
A nationwide convenience store chain's initiative called for such digital signage and the accompanying antenna systems to be installed at approximately 6,000 stores across the country. The original contractor on the job performed the installations themselves more or less to satisfaction, according to Greg Palm, director of program support at United Service Source Inc. The problem was in the supply chain: components coming from multiple sources, had to be programmed and assembled, then distributed to field technicians for deployment. After six months, installations had only been made in about 200 of the stores.
USSI, based in Melbourne, Fla., was brought in to get things moving. Projects of this magnitude weren't daunting to the company, Palm says, because USSI has been involved in major roll-outs of satellite equipment, small- and large-aperture antennas and digital displays for any number of national restaurant and retail chains. It was clear in this instance that a dependable logistics partner was a critical need. USSI found that in Pilot Freight Services.
In the next six months, systems were set up in about 4,000 stores. Another 500 have been installed since then, and the project is ongoing.
"The obstacles that [the original installation contractor] had were, they had speakers coming in from Finland, they had product in Oklahoma City, in New York City and in Los Angeles, and they needed to get these 32-inch and 48-inch digital TVs installed along with the associated systems to make them work," Palm says. "It was the supply chain effort on the front end that was shutting things down. If they could get the systems, they could get them installed, but they couldn't do that."
As it happened, Steve Bullard, vice president of logistics for Pilot Freight Services, is based in Orlando, so meeting with Palm was easy. Together, they and their teams fashioned a plan that would involve transporting parts and components to Pilot warehouses around the country, where kits would be assembled for field engineers to pick up.
The scenario essentially developed like this: Routers and players had to be programmed for local content, such as weather and news. That was done in Melbourne by USSI. That step was crucial because there had been an instance with the original contractor where a Texas installation displayed content designed for California stores. That kind of programming error had to be carefully avoided.
The television screens came from a number of sources, but were essentially funneled through Phoenix for further distribution to designated Pilot warehouse locations. There, the Finnish speakers, the routers, the screens, the TV mounting equipment and various other components were married up.
"We had Pilot trucks in here every day putting our shipments out," Palm says. "We shipped up to 200 kits or systems a day, and Pilot would take them either overnight or ground, depending on the priority. It was very successful."
The technicians, sometimes USSI employees, sometimes contract workers, were assigned to certain geographic areas that accorded with the end customer's priority. Technicians might work in as many as 15 areas at a time, some of them being huge swaths, such as the New York City-to-Washington, DC corridor or the region between San Francisco and Seattle.
That required careful scheduling with the warehouse managers, according to Palm, who says the initiative might use up to 23 locations. "We brought those warehouses online in a phased approach. The managers there always knew what was expected, so we could just move right into those areas."
Bullard says the solution was to provide access to a web-based warehouse management system that was customized to USSI's product. "He [Palm]was able then to ship economy shipments into those locations. We knew what would be in those warehouses and be able to feed into the orders. Before [with the original contractor], you couldn't see what equipment was where."
Clearly, that isn't a problem anymore. Palm says, "We are able to track right down to the most finite components."
That isn't to say that there were no problems along the way, Bullard says. After all, the partners inherited a struggling project with poor processes. "So we didn't have the disciplines upfront that I would have wanted. But those things have been fine-tuned and tweaked, and it's buttoned up very well right now."
Asked to characterize the relationship, Palm say it would have been difficult to impossible to fulfill the contract without Pilot's assistance. "In other words, they were key to the success. They were very willing to work with us, to meet everyone's requirements. We found them to be very accommodating and open to change."
Pilot Freight Services
United Service Source Inc.
Keywords: IT supply chain, supply chain IT, supply chain management IT, transportation management, inventory control, 3PL, third party logistics, logistics management, logistics services, logistics IT solutions
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