RL Magazine
Returning Thoughts: The Who, What, Where, When and How to Improve Global Visibility with Reverse Logistics Partners
By Paul Rupnow

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Successful Reverse Logistics depends on many partners performing functions such as transportation, RMA processing, receiving and sorting, repair or fulfillment. The Reverse Logistics challenge is to quickly, efficiently and effectively process each returned unit, while minimizing costs and inventory. This challenge can be extremely difficult when you need to rely on multiple partners around the globe to help you get each returned item processed.

A Best Practice being utilized by many manufacturers’ is to improve visibility. But how can you get the same visibility from a small partner on an island in the south pacific as you can from your multi-national shipping partner down the road? An approach to improving your visibility is analyze the who, what, where, when and how of your Partner interaction, operations and relationships.

Who: All partners, large and small. Create a list of each Reverse Logistics partner and the functions they perform (e.g. receiving, shipping, repair). Do not forget your internal operations as you work through this analysis.

Where: If you have not done this already, map out the locations and regions of each partner, as well as the region they serve.

When: The best answer here is real time. But the need for true real time data visibility is often not as critical or as expensive if you can be flexible. For instance, day end updates may be satisfactory, especially if the work is performed while your decision team is in another time zone sleeping.

What: List out what key data you need to have visible in order to improve your performance. You need to monitor your Reverse Logistics processes. The two key areas you will need to monitor for your processes are:

  1. transactional data and
  2. balance data
For instance: what repairs were performed today (transactional) and what is the balance of units in process at the end of the day in the repair area (balance data).

Visibility data needs should be generated for each key process at each partner, such as:

  • Inbound Shipments – expected arrival date, overdue
  • Receiving – received today, on the dock but not processed
  • Inspection/Sorting – results of inspection/sort (like No Trouble Found or Scrap)
  • Test and Repairing – results of Test and Repair, Units on hold or Awaiting parts
  • Finished Goods – repairs completed to finished goods
  • Outbound Shipments – backorders, in process, percent filled
  • Discrepancies, Exceptions and Issues – unidentified receipts
  • Inventory – daily ins and outs, balance on hand, refurbished stock ready for re-sale, free stock that can be moved to another partner in need.

How: Now that you know the data you need, how will you get it? How do you ensure it data is accurate and useful? How will you easily analyze the data? How can you ensure all partner data is consistent so you can consolidate it? To address these questions you need to outline your data requirements and then ideally get all of your data into one central data repository for access and analysis:

  • Define the data you need: Provide your partners with a detailed list of the data you need. Unfortunately, the Reverse Logistics industry and the varying needs of partners and manufacturers will make it very difficult to develop your own standard data set. But it is time well spent, since if you can measure it, you can manage it.
  • Define when you need it: Work with your partners to ensure you are getting timely data
  • Provide a place to upload the data: Different partners have different capabilities. Ideally you can provide for all:
  • Larger partners may send data to you via XML or EDI
  • Smaller partners – you can provide software or web screens for your partners to use to process or collect data results. Alternatively you enable them to download the data from your system and upload data to your system via an easy access partner web based tool for batch or spreadsheet uploads.
  • Email or spreadsheets – better than no data, but try to move away from these – they are difficult to consolidate and often result in lost or forgotten data items.
  • Provide your partners with the tools they need: It is often not practical for the partner to integrate for everything you need. When there are gaps, best practice companies provide their partners with the tools they need to capture the data, such as:
  • Access to the Corporate System or ERP – ideal, but often this can be expensive and require significant training.
  • Web Based Reverse Logistics software or Web based screens and tools: Many companies are now very successfully utilizing Reverse Logistics software or web based sites and tools for visibility. With a web based Reverse Logistics system partners around the world have 24 x 7 access to:
  • Record the result of processing (e.g. receipts, disposition, test, repairs, shipments)
  • View the data they have provided and related data that can help them perform their tasks.
  • View select data from other partners, such as shipping data to ensure a shipment has been delivered.
  • Receive immediate feedback, such as warranty validation before starting a repair.
  • Collaborate and share tasks, such as collaboration between receiving and customer service on receiving exceptions to quickly resolve issues and continue processing.
  • Sophisticated processing – web based handheld scanners and printers are now available, allowing you to provide your small or mid sized partners with the web applications they need to inexpensively achieve the same high end warehouse processing sophistication that your large partners have.
  • An easy to learn environment – well designed web applications can significantly reduce training time.
  • Consistent Processing – when you provide the web based tools, all users will be following the same standardized methods and rules, resulting in significantly reduced managing or auditing time requirements.
Improved visibility and good data will help you and your Reverse Logistics partners achieve significantly better, faster and more reliable results (even for the very small partners in far away places).

Good Luck

Paul Rupnow

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