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Special Section Mailing & Fulfillment -- Finding the Right Fulfillment Software

November 2004
By Tom Quinn

The addition of fulfillment services is a natural business extension to the printer's core competency and has the advantage of allowing printers to differentiate themselves as solutions providers for their existing and potential clients. However, while the storage and shipment of materials that have been printed for a client appears to be a simple task, many printers have found the transition to be very difficult.

There are many reasons why this is a more difficult transition than originally expected, but one of the primary reasons is always found to be the software system chosen as the fulfillment operating system (FOS). The following simple guidelines are provided for printers to follow when selecting their FOS.

1. Match the software to the application. The majority of printers will enter the fulfillment industry by managing sales collateral for their clients. The sales collateral fulfillment application will include the storage and shipment of material to the sales organization of the client, and servicing other marketing and sales requirements for the client.

The other activities could include trade show support, seminar support, lead inquiry fulfillment, premium fulfillment, and also to support minor product fulfillment programs. It is important to choose a fulfillment software package that has been designed to complete these specific applications.

2. Focus on the back end. To be successful in the fulfillment business, there is only one metric to control—inventory accuracy. This metric is one of the defining characteristics of the fulfillment industry and one that is not nearly as critical to the success of a printing company. Therefore, when choosing FOS, the capabilities of the warehouse management system portion of the package are the most critical factors to evaluate.

The focus of the software vendor will be in demonstrating the sizzle of the Web-based front-end capabilities. However, the software manufacturer's understanding of the complexity of how a fulfillment warehouse operates; the continual movement of product in and out of storage for projects; the requirement for rush order handling; the arrival of product which is not expected or identified; the management of many clients within one warehouse operation; and many other unique factors must be incorporated in the basic software.

3. Front-end capabilities. To be competitive in the fulfillment market, it will be important to provide a fulfillment solution that incorporates a Web-based solution. The FOS should have an order entry module that incorporates a shopping cart for easy order entry by anyone. The capability to assign a password and ID to a specific set of users is necessary to restrict access to certain parts of the inventory.
 

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