Michelle Kaufman – Distribution Management
- Written by: Mike Schoch
- Produced by: Joe Atwood
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
When something is done well, it looks easy. Such is the case when logistics company, Distribution Management, receives, packs and delivers an order in one or two days, shipping to anywhere in the U.S. The company reaches coast to coast and border to border, all from only five centers in Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Missouri and Illinois.
For its customers, ranging in size and sector, the process seems effortless. But Vice President of Technology Michelle Kaufman says efficiently processing thousands of orders every day is like solving a very large, very expensive equation.
The good news is that logic and organization are what drew Kaufman to computer science in the first place. Now, it’s what keeps her at Distribution Management, where she solves the problem of quick, accurate shipping with a series of technological efficiencies that have turned the normally loud and physically grueling atmosphere of a warehouse into a sleek, quiet, automated network.
Warehouses that talk to each other and to clients
One of Kaufman’s earliest contributions to the company was overseeing development of a custom enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The original project manager for the system left and Kaufman, who had only been working at DM for 6 months, took the helm.
A logistics company that uses integrated software, automation and great organizational skills to ship thousands of orders for thousands of companies across the U.S.—all while expanding into new lines of business.
“I sunk my teeth into it and we got to work. It was a huge beast of a project,” she says.
That was back in 1999. The system has been updated and further customized over the years and is now a network of integrated management tools. Kaufman says that the ERP software communicates with the warehouse management system (WMS) in each of the distribution centers. Because the systems are integrated, staff in the company’s Missouri headquarters can seamlessly monitor data on operations in any of the warehouses and vice versa.
The ERP system is integrated with the company’s client relationship management tool, which lets DM track data relevant to their clients, including how much product they ship, how often they’re contacting clients and what customer service plans they have in place. Clients can view this information through an online portal as well, making it possible to communicate seamlessly 24/7.
Distribution Management has also forged long-standing relationships with outside service providers like Flat World Supply Chain. Flat World integrates its technology with DM’s to provide quotes on transportation and to streamline the shipping process. Partnering with vendors frees Kaufman’s team to improve the company’s order fulfillment process, specifically by automating it.
While the ERP and associated systems let DM’s different locations and clients communicate, Kaufman’s IT team has also developed technology to streamline the work of packing and shipping boxes. When orders come in, the system figures out which distribution center the order should ship from and what type of shipping will be most cost-effective for the customer.
Kaufman says it’s surprising how many warehouses still rely on sheer manpower and a frantic pace to pack orders and ready them for shipping. DM’s warehouses, by contrast, use an automated conveyor system of moving rollers and scanners. The system detects which orders are ready and automatically selects the correct size and number of boxes needed, while applying labels and stickers. The conveyor then snakes through the distribution center, diverting the boxes only to the zones that have the products for each order.
From there, employees use wearable scanners on their arms to confirm what items they should put in the box as well as the location of the items and how long it should take them. When they’re done, the conveyor pushes the box to its next destination so that the employees never have to do heavy lifting.
More efficiency means more business
Focusing on better technology and more data has helped Distribution Management expand its services over the 17 years that Kaufman has been in charge of technology.
DM started as a technology consumables wholesaler shipping ink and toner for companies like HP, but in 2012 the company added its third-party fulfillment service. A few years later, DM expanded to include a larger, pallet shipment service to retailers like Walmart.
As an order fulfillment company, DM warehouses and drop-ships products on behalf of companies that don’t have their own distribution service.
Most recently, it has started building a cross-docking service, where it will receive, validate and immediately ship orders without storing them in its warehouses.
Now that the company has branched off in multiple directions, Kaufman and her team are in constant demand and must select only projects that have the most value for the company. Through a vetting system created by Kaufman, the IT team works with stakeholders to assign scores to proposed projects based on their worth to the company and its clients. Then those stakeholders choose what they need executed based on priority and available IT resources.
Kaufman says she devised the system out of necessity to reduce stress and miscommunication as her team took on more and more work. Now, when new executives are introduced to the system, they are always blown away by its efficiency and simplicity.
She, however, describes it as “just an honest, collaborative discussion.”
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