THE DOCUMENT FROM HELL

Byline:

NEW YORK--It's tough to ensure the accuracy of information contained in an advanced ship notice--so tough, in fact, that retailers have nicknamed the ASN "the document from hell."
But despite difficulties in producing ASNs, retailers remain awed by the operational efficiencies the electronic document potentially affords.
"Without advanced ship notices, we can't replenish electronically," commented Lisa Lichtenberg, divisional vice-president at Federated. "The ship notices tell us exactly what we will be receiving before the suppliers' trucks get to our docks. We just audit random boxes."
Lichtenberg said 29 percent of the merchandise Federated receives is preceded by ship notices. Three hundred twenty-nine of its suppliers are sending Federated ASNs, a high number considering the difficulties of producing accurate ASNs on the vendor side. And Lichtenberg expects Federated to be receiving more ASNs from its suppliers very soon.
"By the end of 1995, 60 to 70 percent of our merchandise should come in with ASNs," she said.
To ensure the accuracy of an ASN, the vendor should ideally scan each item with a hand-held scanner as it is crated. That way, an exact tally of the contents of each crate is created as the crate is sealed.
Scott Fitzpatrick, manager of EDI administration at Mercantile, also sees significant benefits in the use of ASNs, provided their accuracy can be ensured.
"Ship notices are the most complex of the EDI transactions," he said."With ASNs, we would be able to cross dock merchandise without opening the boxes, and we'd be able to drop ship more merchandise."
Gay Millson-Whitney, EDI director at Saks Fifth Avenue, is also drawn to the benefits ofASNs.
"ASNs can potentially create huge, enormous savings," she said. "They can eventually replace the whole invoicing process. And if invoices aren't issued, that would take a couple of cents out of everything we do."
But Saks is moving on ASNs slowly to minimize the glitches retailers expect before the process is perfected.
"We are testing ASNs right now," Millson-Whitney said. "The people who've implemented them already have not done so correctly. The ASN is the toughest of all the EDI documents because it involves so many different functional areas of both companies--the retailer and the manufacturer. The manufacturer really has to scan everything that goes into a box to do it right. That information then gets printed up on an invoice and an ASN is sent. Currently, there are very few accurate ASNs."
Some larger suppliers, however, have a good track record on ASNs. Haggar is one that is mentioned favorably and often by its retailer customers. In marked contrast to the coaxing retailers said they've had to do to get manufacturers on line with EDI, Haggar officials talk of coaxing retailers to receive ASNs.
"We now have half of our EDI partners up on ASNs," said Marsha Parr, vice-president of corporate EDI at Haggar. "A year ago, we had 40 percent up, and the current number is double what it was in 1992."
Parr agreed with retailers, however, that it is incumbent upon the supplier to ensure the accuracy of the ASN.
"The ASN's reliability is dependent upon the accuracy of what the vendor is supplying to the retailer," she said. "Inaccuracies can cause problems. The vendor must be able to record exactly what each shipping container contains. Vendor personnel must scan, pack and build an ASN. If all goes well, the retailer will know exactly what's coming in a shipment, and verify that by scanning the 128 code on the container at its dock. Ideally, the retailer needn't open a carton until it gets to the floor."
Parr stressed the importance of the shipping container code, UCC/EAN-128, to reaping the full benefits of ASNs. "The ship notice without the carton marking is not very useful," she said, "and the 128 code is useless without the ship notice."
Companies like Haggar, who've ironed out the problems involved in producing accurate ship notices, are in the minority. In order to produce accurate ASNs, suppliers must retool their packing and shipping departments to use hand-held scanners. That information must then be relayed to the supplier's computer, where an ASN would be produced. Finally, proper EDI transaction sets must be in place to transmit the ASN to the retailer.
Despite the hurdles, retailers and many of their suppliers are eager to move ahead with its implementation.
"The push in EDI in 1995 is going to be the advanced ship notice," said Aaron Schorr, director of the Quick Response Center at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "The ASN gives the retailer the ability to receive goods, cross dock them and get them right out onto the floor."
"We are handling a lot of floor-ready merchandise right now, but would really like to do ASNs," commented Valerie Burcham, EDI manager at Belk. "The ASN can possibly contain so much data. One ASN can represent a huge shipment, but can give you information that refers all the way down to the carton level.
"With accurate ASNs, we can have any billing discrepancies resolved and merchandise tickets printed and ready to attach before the shipments get to our docks. The merchandise could go right out onto the floor."

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