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Take Your VMI Program Back to School!

By Ellen Campbell-Kaminski, former Vice President of Marketing, Datalliance

It's that time of year that children dread and parents love...Back to School season! In our family, Back to School season is also an opportunity to get things "ship shape" before school starts. We buy new clothes, new backpacks, a new lunch box and new school supplies. And there are other things we do to make sure the kids get off to a good start on the first day of school. Things like getting a new hair cut. And picking up the class schedule. Finding our bus schedule, setting the alarm, putting lunch money on our account and picking out that all-important first day of school outfit.

So, in the same way that parents and children go through a checklist to go back to school, this time of year is the perfect opportunity to evaluate whether or not your current vendor managed inventory (VMI) vendor is in the best possible condition to help you achieve your goals.

  1. Ability to Scale. As parents, we want a school environment that can grow with our children and continue to inspire and challenge them. Likewise, a good VMI platform should be able to grow and scale as your business matures. Maybe you started your VMI program ten years ago with one key customer. Your company looks far different than it did in 2006 and it likely won't look the same five years down the road. At this point, you've experienced the benefits of VMI and want to extend that beyond your original trading partner. Make sure your vendor offers a solution that is utilized across a large customer base, managing tens of thousands of locations, and millions of SKUs.
  2. Clear and Predictable Pricing. Parents and students want clarity around the learning objectives of each class and how performance will be evaluated. Teachers provide a syllabus for the course and grading rubrics for specific assignments. No one wants to be surprised with a failing grade at the end of the term. Businesses do not like surprises either, especially when it comes to billing. Does your VMI service provider offer a pricing approach that is understandable and easy to predict? Does it vary month-to-month with hidden fees and fluctuations that make budgeting a challenge?
  3. IT Impact. Technology is radically changing the classroom and homework environment for the better. But parents do not have unlimited resources nor are we all "tech savvy." Taking advantage of technology in the classroom needs to be budget friendly for parents and cannot require parents to have a PhD in computer science. These days every business and every department are being asked to do more with less. Your colleagues in the IT department are no exception. What are the implementation and ongoing resource requirements of your current program? Select a VMI platform provider that offers a hosted (cloud) solution that significantly minimizes the impact on IT resources. Cloud-based solutions are easier to implement, maintain and support.
  4. Flexibility. Different children learn differently. Great educators recognize different learning styles and provide a variety of exercises, projects and approaches so that each student can take in the information in the way that works best for them. In the same way that your organization has changed since you originally started your vendor managed inventory program, so have your customers' needs. Make sure your solution can adapt to and accommodate the differing requirements of a diverse customer set. For example, do you need to accommodate different demand signals or plan different routes to market? Does your system provide the flexibility to replenish a distribution center, a mixing center, a cross-dock operation or direct-to-store?
  5. Expertise and Support. Think back to your own school years. I bet there are a handful of teachers that even to this day, you remember their name, what they taught and what it was like in their classroom. Why? Because they were passionate about teaching and were committed to your success. And even though you may not have been able to articulate that then, you recognized that they cared deeply about their subject matter and most important, they cared deeply about your success. Is your VMI provider simply selling you a software package or is there a shared commitment to your success? Do they provide ongoing service, support and consulting to ensure that you are optimizing your program and maximizing your return on investment? What is the best way to evaluate a VMI provider's post-sales support? Ask their existing customers!

As you prepare for a successful school year, take some time to also evaluate if your VMI provider is "best in class." To all of the students, parents, and educators, best wishes for a wonderful year.

About the Author

Ellen Campbell-Kaminski is the Vice President of Marketing at Datalliance. She is an accomplished B2B marketer over 20 years in marketing leadership and general management positions at global information services and technology companies. You can follow Ellen on Twitter @campbellkam and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ellenkaminski

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