Posts Tagged 'Warehouse'

August 24, 2008

Inventory Envy

Before coming to SoftLayer in February of 2007, I worked for a large format printing company. What does that mean you ask? We printed LARGE signage, not as large as billboards, but think about a mall and all the signs in the windows and inside the stores, this is called POP (point of purchase) and that’s what I did. I was in charge of making sure schedules were met, materials were ordered (all of them, for the entire company), maintained vendor relations (so I could get what I wanted, when I wanted it) and helped start up their online ordering system, those were a few of my jobs.

I’ve been helping out the inventory team in the Dallas DC as we are getting rid of the old and bringing in the new so to speak, saying bye-bye to the legacy servers that use up too much space and too much power. Our COO asked me for my help, knowing I had an inventory background. I had also worked with one of the inventory guys at my last location. He worked in the shipping/fulfillment department, so he was always aware of inventory levels and things like that, and was responsible for letting me know when we needed more of a particular item in his department (he always did an excellent job).

Yesterday I was putting legacy servers back to a basic config and he was scanning all parts back into the portal and back out based on the basic config. I was amazed at the system. I knew our portal for our customers was amazing, but hadn’t really delved into the inventory side of our reporting, etc. until then. We know where every single piece of hardware is in each of our facilities at any given time. Each stick of RAM, each HDD, each RAID card and the list goes on and on and on. It’s simply amazing. I joked with him saying “our old bosses would freak out if they had a real inventory set up like this, wouldn’t they?” he laughed and agreed.

I had to constantly order things last minute and over night, rush delivery because inevitably, someone would not tell me they took the last roll of vinyl, the last pallet of 20” x 40” boxes, whatever it was, it happened all the time. Taking on so many hats at my last job, I didn’t have time to readily go around and check stock all the time, I relied on each department to tell me and inevitably, it failed over and over again. I had complained for years that people could just walk off with whatever they wanted, as there was no sort of tracking system in place at all. Sure, each thing had its place, but an actual inventory count at the end of each month, reports? HAHAHAHAHA.

SoftLayer not only helps our customers every single day but they also built a system so that it would make their employees lives much easier as well. Every single aspect of this business was painstakingly thought out with the amazing team of guys and gals we have here. If a report doesn’t exist, they can make it happen, sometimes in a day, sometimes it’s not so easy, but they can do it. These guys are super heroes; I’ll let them tell you what kind of super powers they have.

-Shawna

July 27, 2008

What if SoftLayer Managed Inventory and Demand Like Apple?

Quick Answer: It would be disastrous!

Consider Apple's rollout of the iPhone 3G. Full disclosure: I'm trying to get my hands on one of those new iPhones, but as yet I have been unsuccessful.

When the first iPhones rolled out in June 2007, it was understandable that Apple had no idea how many to produce in advance of the launch. It was a product that moved the smart phone concept forward in several ways, but it wasn't perfect. Also, buyers set it up at home on their own using iTunes, so the buying process was simple. Get in, pay up, and get out. The long lines moved quickly. There were rumors of overproduction based on realized demand. I bought one for my wife's birthday at the 2007 release. Buying it and setting it up was easy.

This year is very different. Because of aftermarket hacking, you are required to activate and set up the phone with AT&T service in person this time around. So if you want to jailbreak the iPhone 3G, you'll have to pay a cancellation fee to AT&T. There is no get in, pay up, and get out. The buying process is running 20 to 30 minutes at this point, and Apple and AT&T are selling TONS more phones than at last year's rollout. Stock outs are occurring everywhere. But yet, Apple is still selling them on a first come/first served basis. Yes, you can prepay at an AT&T store, but they're quoting a minimum 10 business day wait for your phone.

It would make complete sense if a few months before the launch date, folks could have logged in, paid a deposit, reserved a phone, and set up a time for activation. Apple could have better anticipated demand and tailored phone production and store staffing accordingly.

Suffice it to say that SoftLayer does not manage inventory and customer demand like Apple. We strive to anticipate demand and arrange our inventory and staffing accordingly. We do our best to find that balance to keep our inventory lean so as to not waste money on maintaining unused product, yet have enough on hand so that our customers' businesses can be scalable. In other words, when you need another server or two or two hundred, we've got ‘em for you – and ready for you to use in a few hours, tops.

Yes, you can order enough servers for us to require a few days to call in a shipment. But that would be quite a large order, and you can rest assured that you wouldn't be a nameless "first come, first served" patron.

Bottom line, if we treated the customers who want our services as Apple does their iPhone customers, we'd have a lot less of them. That's customers, not iPhones.

-Gary

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