Provia Tackles RFID in a Twofold Manner Part Five: 3PL Support and SCE Optimization

FourSite 4.4

These days when radio frequency identification (RFID) is constantly on everyone's lips, and when every relevant enterprise application vendor is hedging its bets towards becoming RFID-ready or is even convincing the market that its RFID-compliant solution is exactly what the doctor (such as, Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, and the US Department of Defense [DoD]) ordered, the typically quiet Provia Software (, a privately-held provider of supply chain execution (SCE) software solutions, naturally feels the time has come for it to be more vocal about its RFID endeavors, albeit after it has already put so much effort in terms of the proof of concept in the field.

At the end of May, Provia announced at the Distribution/Computer Expo 2004 in Chicago, Illinois, (US) that its ViaView event/alert management and decision support product plays a key role in offering visibility to supply chain data for companies supplying RFID-tagged products to Wal-Mart and other retailers.

Furthermore, at the end of March, Provia announced that it has aligned itself with its parent company of over fifteen years, Viastore Systems, a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), and material handling control systems, with over 3,000 cranes installed worldwide.

As for the products' functional enhancements, at the end of 2003, Provia announced the release of FourSite 4.4, an upgrade of its fulfillment solution oriented towards third party logistics (3PL) providers. Industry-wide globalization is a major factor affecting logistics and supply chain management businesses. As a result of the drastic increase in global manufacturing and competition, 3PL providers are constantly seeking to refine their supply chain processes for greater efficiency and to offer their customers a competitive advantage. To that end, Provia's FourSite helps more than seventy 3PL clients manage the complex needs and fluctuating inventories of a multitude of customers every day. This newest release adds increased capabilities, such as enhanced web-based billing options, multiple lot codes, and labor tracking, within the following application enhancements:

  • ViaView billing—invoicing and billing transactions for publication are available to ViaView, whereby users have web-based visibility to these billing and invoicing transactions to make smarter decisions.

  • Recurring billing—automatically calculates recurring charges, such as the amount of square footage used by a client each month, for faster billing.

  • Deferred revenue—automates the process of manually making journal entries to the user's general ledger (GL) accounting system.

  • Multiple lot codes—creates a process that allows FourSite users to define user definable fields (UDFs) at the product level, and store specific UDF information by inventory lot.

  • Labor tracking—adds the capability to produce customer specific invoices associated with the labor collection activities. Additional fields capture equipment types, units of measure (UOM), and billing indicators to allow for automated billing based on the labor information.

As of the release of FourSite 4.1 in 2002, Provia's 3PL solution has been available for the UNIX and Windows 2000 server platforms and with Oracle, Informix, and Microsoft SQL Server database support, and each configuration uses the same source code. Having the identical product available in multiple platforms and databases should offer Provia clients the freedom to select the configuration that best fits their business needs. Also, since ViaWare WMS 6.0 in 2002, Provia claims to be the first vendor to offer true "tier one" level functionality in a single WMS for the Windows 2000, Linux, and UNIX platforms. By offering the same WMS product for all these platforms, Provia aims at delivering a standard, scaleable, and database independent solution capable of meeting the needs of the most demanding WMS environments. Provia's single-source strategy also includes database independence, so that companies can choose between the above databases for the WMS. Additionally, this should allow the company to completely focus research and development on a single WMS product.

This is Part five of an eight-part note.

Parts One through Five detail recent announcements.

Parts Six and Seven will discuss the market impact.

Part Eight will note challenges and make user recommendations.

Parts One through Four were published between August 11 and 14.

Part Five to Eight will be published August 18 to 21.

SCE Optimization

Addressing some shortcomings of current SCE systems that admittedly mainly still automate and do not necessarily optimize operations within the short-term optimization timeframe, and, consequently, full savings are often not yet realized, in the second half of 2003, Provia announced the availability of a new product solution for SCE optimization. The product suite, ViaOptimize, is an advanced step for companies who have already automated their facilities with Provia's WMS and are now looking at optimization as a key area of improvement, efficiency, and cost reduction.

For years distribution centers have had the challenges of managing daily cost, equipment, inventory, and personnel issues, which are all constraints that can negatively affect a DC's ability to operate profitably. To that end, the ViaOptimize suite consists of three products: Scheduler, Capacity Planner, and Dynamic Slotting. These applications, when combined with the ViaWare WMS, should allow distribution facilities to deliver the maximum possible throughput, efficiency, quality, and resource utilization through the optimization of orders throughout the facility. It potentially delivers an incremental improvement in productivity, and allows its customers to take into account existing and changing constraints, and order configurations.

In other words, the Scheduler product models the warehouse considering the input (e.g., orders, warehouse task standards and order process flow), the potential constraints or bottlenecks, including available labor, equipment, value-added services, inventory timing, order complexity and transportation requirements (e.g., transit times) that can affect the optimal output of a facility. It also produces a constraint-based daily schedule that includes order release times, requirements for warehouse equipment, and personnel and assembly workstations. These are in addition to detailed schedules for staging lanes, optimal sequence of orders, order grouping in economical batches, transportation mode selection, wave release schedule with wave templates, dock and appointment schedule, labor requirements by task and zone, etc.

The schedules are transmitted to the ViaWare WMS where new Wave Plans are generated and released to the DC workforce. Real time feedback of actual versus scheduled performance allows for "on-the-fly" adjustments to the schedule if an unexpected event occurs. In the case of an unexpected event, such as inventory shortages or equipment breakdowns, the scheduler is immediately rerun and an updated schedule is produced, taking into account the new constraints and allowing the maximized output of the facility to continue uninterrupted, while the WMS workflow in the distribution center is automatically changed through task management.

Workload planning begins by looking at current orders and how they fit into the finite capacity model of the facility. Orders are sequenced through the facility based on business objectives and constraints. Thus, the Scheduler would determine the optimal order flow for things such as, maximum throughput, lowest cost, or service level, and is based on the possible constraints. These constrains include labor capacity; order complexity (e.g., kitting, cluster picking, etc.); service level commitments (i.e., order dates); transportation lead time and cost; or inventory availability. The results would be optimized order release schedule, shipping schedule, dock and appointment schedule, and labor assignments by hour. The users can isolate and drill-down a single order showing detailed steps and scheduling.

This real time optimization of the fulfillment process should enable Provia clients to configure complex, multi-step kitting and assembly operations in make-to-stock (MTS), make-to-order (MTO), and configure-to-order (CTO) environments by trading off constraints like temporary or overtime labor costs, equipment capabilities, transportation costs, inventory availability, and required delivery dates to ensure the optimal sequence in which orders should be released for processing.

The capacity planner product, on its hand, looks at all the work and related costs to fulfill orders and perform activities in the distribution center over a several days and allows managers to evaluate the associated cost trade-offs. As an example, the capacity planner evaluates the work and true cost required to get a particular order out the door and to its destination to meet a required delivery deadline. The cost and effort of using temporary or overtime labor and sending the item out today versus using expedited shipping and sending it out tomorrow can now be fairly accurately compared and evaluated so that planners can develop the most effective labor, operations, and transportation plan that delivers orders on time and at the lowest possible cost.

More generally speaking, the capacity planner aims at determining the shipping plan for maximum throughput, lowest cost, highest service level, and the optimal balance of these, based on the constraints such as labor capacity by facility; order complexity; service level commitments; transportation mode options; and planned inventory availability. The results should be an optimized daily shipping plan by facility, transportation mode selection, DC capacity versus forecast, temporary labor and overtime versus expedited transportation decision, etc. The scheduler and capacity planner products are OEM-ed from Taylor Scheduling Software (

WMS-related Functionality

Provia has also, for some time, offered many possibly differentiating capabilities within WMS-related functionality like dynamic re-slotting, i.e., determining the optimal slot size and place for any stock-keeping unit (SKU) based on data such as demand (e.g., whether it is a fast or slow-moving item), product groupings and physical characteristics, to also keep picking operations smoothly despite frequent promotions and changes to product mix. Doing this manually is almost impossible in environments where hundreds of SKUs get added or deleted every week. Thus, Provia's solution reviews a few weeks history of shipping and outbound orders, and then sets up accordingly forward picks for faster moving products and vice versa for slower-moving products.

In other words, the dynamic slotting product continually evaluates the "popularity" of items (such as, history, orders, forecast, etc.) in a distribution center and makes sure that the items picked the most often are rotated to positions closer to the dock doors. As items lose favor due to seasonality or another reason, they are placed continually farther from the dock doors. Zone and location configuration are thereby automatically configured by product line. The automated re-slotting execution can be run daily, weekly, or monthly, while users have a rich graphical slotting representation on the screen. Having faster moving items closer to the dock doors reduces the travel time required to pick those items and increases the productivity of your labor force. Thus, automating the re-slotting process should allow for continual optimization, rather than relying on staff to notice that an item is not moving as quickly.

This concludes Part five of an eight-part note.

Parts One through Five detail recent announcements.

Parts Six and Seven will discuss the market impact.

Part Eight will note challenges and make user recommendations.

Parts One through Four were published between August 11 and 14.

Part Five to Eight will be published August 18 to 21.

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