A popular saying theorizes that success lies in the partner you choose to work alongside you. While this certainly applies to vendors and customers, experience has taught me that a company's ability to succeed in today's marketplace is particularly affected by the technology selected to support—or partner with—the business.
Let's face it, we all know that success in the building materials supply chain hinges on delivering the right value at the right cost. All along this chain, companies are challenged by information—how fast they can get it, what degree of accuracy it contains, and what it might even be missing. In today's environment, information technology (IT) has become the enabler that allows management to obtain and process information to ensure that precise and wise business decisions can be made based on that information.
I have spent more than 26 years as a technology specialist, watching and actively participating in the integration of technology into all aspects of business. Remember the days when complex IT systems consisted essentially of accounting machines that quickly added facts and figures for the finance department? I was there. Since then, the need for supply chain efficiencies, in particular, has demanded an evolution into networked communications, and strong IT departments are now integral to a growing company's success, regardless of its size.
Today, for example, in the ever changing environment of global competition, managements are faced with rising inventory costs that threaten growth opportunities. IT systems that can forecast those inventory needs and therefore create greater visibility on the supply chain have thus become silent strategic partners offering significant competitive advantages.
Our technology department at BlueLinx supports and serves more than 12,000 customers across the nation's building products industry, including key pro dealers and professional contractors and builders in virtually every major construction market. Our technology experts have developed a dependable, multi-layered infrastructure and systems in order to streamline business processes for every employee, which in turn benefits our vendors and customers. For our sales force of approximately 1,000 people, for example, technology delivers immediate answers to inventory supply, customer history, and order status. Warehouse employees across our nationwide network of more than 65 facilities rely on timely electronic receipt of customer requests and views of available products contained in our stocking systems. These capabilities in turn reaffirm to our organization the understanding that technology is an integral extension of customer service.
Of course, technology will never take the place of one-on-one customer relationships, but I am confident that technology does enhance the ability to add value to that customer relationship. From my own experience at BlueLinx, I know that the speed and accuracy of IT systems have increased customer satisfaction. For example, our electronic data interchange system has the ability to dispatch an order to the correct distribution facility within minutes. Another system views this information, helps to assign the appropriate products to the order, and assists with the loading order of those materials onto our delivery trucks while other systems chart the best delivery route. The combination of these systems results in reliable service provided at low cost, creating supply chain value for the customer.
If I could share one point for everyone in building materials supply to remember when evaluating technology solutions, it is this: Find or develop systems that can accommodate growth and are sustainable for the long term. Too many investments are made in complicated, expensive solutions that become obsolete too quickly and are too cumbersome for employees to use comfortably. Simple, efficient technology is not just the wisest solution—it is the partner you have longed for and, when leveraged with care, becomes a catalyst for new successes.