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FE&SEditorial Archives2006June — Parting Shot

XML Marks the Spot

Restaurant Equipment World
Orlando, Fla.

While many industries are known for their technical efficiencies, unfortunately, foodservice equipment is not one of them. Whether it’s fear of the unknown, the mistaken concept of high costs, or a feeling of being content with doing things how they’ve always been done, the truth of the matter is our industry is falling behind. It’s time to make a change by taking action and moving our industry forward by utilizing available technology.

Imagine a system where every piece of a transaction that can be automated is integrated. The dealer sales representative enters a quote into their system. This quote is electronically transmitted to the customer, approved, and re-enters the dealer’s system as an active order. The system then sends a purchase order to the manufacturer, who provides an electronic acknowledgement and returns it to the DSR and the customer. As product production takes place and shipping occurs, the manufacturer’s system dispatches more information to the DSR and the operator customer. Upon delivery to the operator customer’s location, the DSR receives a notification that initiates the steps leading to support for the customer. The system automatically generates invoicing from the manufacturer to the dealer as well as from the dealer to the customer. Essentially, the process described here strips away the inefficiencies from the order process, without reducing the level of customer service to the end-user. In fact, the process increases the customer service level by keeping the end-user better informed.

While some organizations within our industry work with pieces and parts of this total automation approach, I’ve yet to see an end-to-end solution that accomplishes all of these tasks seamlessly. On a positive note, this solution is completely viable and can be very cost-effective to implement by using a simple computer language called XML (Extensible Markup Language). Before you tune out after reading that scary computer term, let me explain what makes up an XML file. In its most basic terms, it is simply a text file that contains tags telling the computer where a data field begins and ends.

The key to making it happen is developing a critical mass of organizations willing to embrace the technology and request that their trading partners do the same.

For example, you could have a line with tags that say, 12345. The manufacturer could generate a small XML file with the tracking number and send it to the dealer. The dealer’s computer could read this electronic file and import this information into their system. The beauty of the XML file format is that it is a standardized format, which allows trading partners to exchange information regardless of what software each of the companies use. AutoQuotes is an industry frontrunner in the use of XML file formats so the fundamental building blocks are already in place to expand its use.

I urge you to open your mind to the possibilities that exist by embracing the current technology available and use of the XML file format. During a time when customers are trying to save money, dealers are looking to spur revenue growth despite smaller margins and manufacturers are caught with higher costs of raw materials, this is a small-cost solution that can have a relatively large impact on all of our bottom lines. The key to making it happen is developing a critical mass of organizations willing to embrace the technology and request that their trading partners do the same. Once this happens, implementation is sure to follow and the entire supply chain will benefit.

“Parting Shot’’ is a monthly opinion column written on a rotating basis by guest authors. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of FE&S.

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