Improved Messaging Keeps Things Moving for Exel

Intec’s expertise is helping global logistics company Exel keep business on the road.

Business for Exel is all about keeping things moving. The company excels in delivering tailored logistical solutions ranging from single shipments to complex multi-location logistics programs; building a reputation as one of the world’s leading international logistics providers. Exel offers a comprehensive range of global logistics and transportation services including warehouse management services, airfreight, sea freight and customs brokerage to meet the growing needs of increasingly complex customer supply chains.

Key to Exel’s business proposition is the worldwide capability for EDI messaging. Information systems and EDI links capture detailed shipment data for distribution between different parties involved at every stage of the transportation process. This ensures that communication flows are facilitated between customers, suppliers, agent partners and customs authorities.

Faced with a need to deliver a comprehensive solution for a very important client, Exel Logistics turned to IT consultancy Intec for assistance. John Bowley, Commercial Manager with Exel explained the value of Intec’s consultancy in developing the relationship with the client.

Japanese-based industrial conglomerate, Hitachi, were looking to streamline its distribution network, serving key European destinations. Exel was called on to help establish an innovative and dynamic supply chain system for Hitachi Europe’s Information Media Group (IMG) which supplies display and memory products to manufacturers of PCs.

Hitachi and Exel have a long standing global relationship, going back some five years.” John explains, “Over that time Hitachi’s business has grown significantly, and so has our involvement with their business.

John’s particular involvement as the manager of the Exel/Hitachi Europe relationship means that he has responsibility for all aspects of the business relationship between the two companies. And, when a number of changes, mergers and IT challenges presented themselves in 2000, it was John and his team that worked to build the solution.

In essence Exel acts as the primary liaison between the points of origin for Hitachi’s computer storage products, generally in the Far East, and the company’s distribution centres in Amsterdam and London, then onto the retail outlets and ultimately end-user customers.” John explains. “Providing such a vital link in the supply chain is not without challenges – particularly as our involvement with the customer in this case involved providing a fully developed Warehouse Management System.

Following a review of systems Hitachi decided to update a number of its legacy systems into a centralised ERP solution from SAP. Exel’s challenge at that time was to meet the SAP go-live date with an integrated warehouse and inventory management solution. The biggest issue was implementation of an EDI messaging system – but which was not supported on the proposed new platform. Initial discussions with the existing supplier of the warehouse management system proved to John Bowley that more specific project management support was required to meet Hitachi’s demands, and their timeframe.

EDI is a particular specialism of IT consultancy Intec. At the time Intec was already working on an EDI project on Exel’s AS400 platform. Exel recognised that Intec had both the expertise and resources he required to address the challenge laid down by Hitachi.

Intec consultant Laura Lahoud was bought onboard as project manager. Her involvement proved vital to the development and successful execution of the complex EDI project.

Laura explains,

Because of the nature of systems development within Exel and Hitachi we had to find the best way of ensuring the EDI messages from Hitachi into Exel, and from Exel to Hitachi worked properly.”

By applying a clear and logical project management approach the best route for synchronising the complex communications channels became apparent, however it meant stretching the technology already in use to integrate messaging the new systems that were being developed, and those belonging the other parties involved – which included RS6000, Unison, and SAP.

The challenge for Intec was primarily a project management challenge because of the parties and technology involved, as Laura Lahoud describes,

EDI messaging came from Hitachi to Exel’s AS400 via Intercept 400, this had to be mapped to a set of user files, formatted into flat files and sent – via FTP to the RS6000, being used to host the Warehouse Management System.

We employed this transfer protocol because Unison on the RS6000 wasn’t EDI enabled.

Extensive testing revealed some errors in one of the messages, which “would have been impossible to detect without detailed knowledge of SAP, Unison and how EDI messages work.

Laura adds.

Because of Intec’s involvement the solution proved viable from the word go at the launch of Hitachi’s new systems’ implementation. Intec continues to play a role in the on-going support of the solution. As John Bowley points out the supply chain systems are crucial to businesses like Hitachi and Exel. Any reduction in systems availability costs money and time and can ultimately jeopardise a carefully built relationship. Bringing the analytical and project management skills of Intec into the solution enabled Exel to demonstrate their responsibility and commitment to strengthening the relationship with Hitachi. “Laura Lahoud proved invaluable for Exel in this project.” John Bowley explains, “Intec have the right skillset for delivering technology and project management skills that enable companies like us to concentrate on our core business – and build the relationship with our clients.”

Intec’s contribution to the solution is a critical factor but one that generally remains in the background of projects such as these. The value of transferring information between Hitachi and Exel is seen to deliver timely, business-critical data into Hitachi’s field of vision, allowing the company to make better business decisions and plans. The knowledge chain involved in solving the complex problems faced by Exel and Hitachi means that the skills, commitment and intelligence that Intec brings to its work delivers real business advantage to these world-leading companies.

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