Sinclair's subject is the integration of new material-handling equipment with information-technology infrastructure. "We want to make sure that various products talk to each other in a robust manner," he says.
In addressing the challenge, managers need two discrete skill sets - a good working knowledge of IT, coupled with expertise in material-handling and storage methodologies.
Getting those systems to work together smoothly is the biggest roadblock that material-handling companies face, Sinclair says. Sometimes the answer lies in middleware. Other times, managers can rely on microprocessors and natural links between separate software applications.
The key to success is flexibility. "If you don't have various integration points," says Sinclair, "you're not going to be successful. You need to be able to support different types of file transfer."
Vendors should be on site during the key implementation stages. They must demonstrate an intimate knowledge of the client's technology infrastructure, and address all of its concerns about integration.
An independent systems integrator can be a valuable partner. "It depends on whether the customer wants a cradle-to-grave or specific solution set," Sinclair said. The third party can be a "great asset," he adds, "but if you're just doing something along the lines of integrating to vertical storage equipment, you may be able to get away without needing a true systems integrator."
The biggest issue that tends to arise in a IT initiative is finding the right integration point. New or emerging technology is especially susceptible to roadblocks on the way to implementation, Sinclair says.
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, inventory control, warehouse management systems, WMS, inventory management, logistics management, supply chain planning, material handling
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