ASSOCIATED TO INTEGRATE SUPPLY CHAIN, FINANCIALS

SEATTLE -- Associated Grocers here is aiming to integrate its supply-chain management and financial applications this summer to provide the wholesaler with a better handle on costs in the supply chain and provide corporatewide access to data."We felt it was important to tie together the financial and supply-chain systems to provide us with easy access to accurate information about costs in the supply

SEATTLE -- Associated Grocers here is aiming to integrate its supply-chain management and financial applications this summer to provide the wholesaler with a better handle on costs in the supply chain and provide corporatewide access to data.

"We felt it was important to tie together the financial and supply-chain systems to provide us with easy access to accurate information about costs in the supply chain," said Maureen Murphy, chief financial officer for the retail-owned cooperative, which supplies more than 175 independent grocers throughout Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Pacific Rim. "We wanted to integrate all of our supplier and customer information and make it available across our organization," she said.

Beginning this month, the wholesaler is rolling out warehouse-management software from Manhattan Associates, Atlanta, to its distribution centers. That implementation will be complete in October.

Also being rolled out this month is software, from Lawson Software, Minneapolis, for a number of financial and procurement functions, including accounts-payable, asset and purchase-order management.

Later this summer, Associated will expand its inventory-management system, from E3 Corp., Marietta, Ga., to include the tracking of perishable items. Associated is already using the inventory-management software for its dry-goods items.

Like many wholesalers and retailers, Associated is seeking out ways to reduce costs and increase efficiencies in the supply chain. Integrating the financial and supply-chain systems makes it easier to do a detailed cost analysis of supply-chain practices, Murphy noted. "These systems will be feeding into one another, so we can get a better overall picture of the costs of inventory and warehousing particular items," she said.

Murphy said Associated made a decision to replace its homegrown systems with a best-of-breed approach, linking together specialized software for various functions.

"We felt this best-of-breed solution will help to maintain our competitive process," she said. "By having all of these systems integrated, it is a little more of a learning curve, but we feel the benefits will be long-term."

Murphy noted there are enterprise resource planning systems that would handle all of these functions with one system, but the wholesaler felt the best-of-breed approach offered flexibility while still providing all of the necessary integration.

Many retailers and wholesalers, faced with the need to provide a companywide resource for data, have to choose between installing an ERP system and taking a best-of-breed approach. Both strategies have benefits and drawbacks, according to industry observers. Best-of-breed provides flexibility, but the various components can be difficult to integrate for different technology vendors. While ERP provides a fully integrated, single solution, functions can be limited and installation complicated.