Government market ripe for supply-chain provider
Take Supply Chain envisions new business in the federal sector
- By David Hubler
- Jul 28, 2009
The company once known as ClearOrbit, a provider of track, trace and control solutions for corporate supply chains, has changed its name to Take Supply Chain and is expanding its customer universe to attract new government contractors and federal agencies.
“We chose this time to implement a global re-branding so we could represent a single, collective voice to customers and partners around the world. Combining the strength of Take Solutions’ global brand identity with our enhanced product portfolio positions us for continued rapid growth across the supply chain applications market,” said John Reece, president of Take Supply Chain, announcing the name change in May.
In January, the company unveiled its Global Track and Trace Solution for Government Assets and Materials, a supply chain management solution that is based on the company’s commercial applications but which can be tailored to the specific needs of government agencies.
“With all that is going on currently, I think there is going to be a new level of accountability that taxpayers will demand for custodianship of government resources,” said Warren Sumner, vice president of marketing and products at Take Supply Chain.
“We thought the government sector could use our services and our solutions because we are all about giving you control of those complex supply chain processes,” he said. “Our whole heritage is around track, trace and control of materials.”
When ClearOrbit was founded in 1994, one of its earliest customers was Cisco Systems Inc., a major supplier of telecommunications networking equipment. “Right from the beginning we learned how to build systems that are capable of [managing] very high volumes,” Sumner said.
He likened the government’s supply chain challenges to the often-praised system employed by WalMart, which tracks individual items as they move from order to warehouse to store, onto the shelf, then into the customer’s shopping cart for checkout.
The challenges are the same in government, Sumner said. “You have very large quantities of goods, whether it’s drugs moving through the Health and Human Services [Department] system out to medical facilities or obviously military applications.”
For example, the Defense Department moves vast quantities of thousands of different materials, including many very high-value, classified components needed in remote locations, he added. “How can you ensure continuous visibility and traceability of every one of those items?” he asked rhetorically.
Sumner said the solution starts with an item-level identifier. “In the end, it requires an integrated set of systems typically managed by different parties – whether they are contracted private, third-party logistics providers, government agencies or others.”
The goal, Sumner added, is to bring all information into a centralized database to create visibility and verification throughout the entire process.
“We frankly moved into the government sector because we think we can grow,” Sumner said. “We have, at least for us, an untapped market and we think there is a need at this particular time for the kind of solutions that we offer so we’re looking to that sector to help us accelerate our growth.”
For example, some of the same cybersecurity item identifiers – RFID and GPS, for example – are capable of tracking the movement of people on military bases and other secure facilities, including airport runways and classified installations, he said.
“We are actively engaged in conversations around the security of human installations and we have lots and lots of customers in the private sector and a growing number of customers in the government sector around that material tracking process,” Sumner said.
At present, the federal sector accounts for only about 10 percent of Take Supply Chain’s revenues. “It’s a relatively small percentage, but in terms of where we’re putting our emphasis, it’s closer to something like 30 percent,” Sumner said. “We are putting a lot of resources into sales and marketing, and basically opening people’s eyes to the kinds of solutions that we can deploy.”
As part of its expansion plans, the Austin, Texas, company recently opened sales and marketing offices in Thurmont, Md., and Centreville, Va. Take Supply Chain now has nearly two dozen employees dedicated to the federal sector, who work in development, contracts, services and implementation teams.
Although he cannot reveal the names of current federal clients for security reasons, Sumner said one federal laboratory uses Take Supply Chain’s solution to purchase and track large amounts of sensitive and classified materials for delivery at numerous sites simultaneously.
“Our application gives advanced shipment notices, uses bar code technologies to ensure the correct delivery of the item at the right time and right place, and has signature capture and other techniques to make sure that the item is delivered to the properly authorized individual,” he said.
BAE Systems’ Land and Armaments division is using Take Supply Chain’s track, trace and command solution to automate its manufacturing process data collection.
“The goal was to automate the management/tracking of inventory from the time it is received at the dock until it is stored at the point of use on the factory floor, reducing dock to stock time, labor cost for material handling, and improved inventory accuracy and control,” Steve McNeil, manufacturing systems engineering manager at
BAE-Combat Systems Operations, said in an email.
“Ultimately, the goal of the project was for BAE Systems to improve upon its ability to deliver critical combat systems to our men and women in uniform as quickly as possible,” he said.
For that reason, McNeil added, BAE needed a partner that understood the aerospace and defense industry and that could “provide a turnkey solution from hardware and software configuration to start-up support and user training.” The partner also had to be able to could help BAE evolve to a more sophisticated use of technology with a module-based software approach.
The system has been in use for about seven months, and BAE and Take Supply Chain continue to improve the processes, McNeil said.
Sumner said he hoped that the BAE solution also might offer the company the opportunity to expand its offerings into the United Kingdom.
For the time being, Take Supply Chain sees subcontracting as its most advantageous business model. “We think we’re best positioned to help the large federal prime contractors when they have issues around this track, tracing and control set of complex problems that we solve,” he said.
Although the company has experienced a growth rate of 10 percent to 15 percent during the past five years, 2008 “ended unlike any of us wanted it to,” he said. “And this year is looking to be a difficult one, too.”
Sumner said he also expects competition will remain strong from companies that offer so-called point solutions based on RFID technology. “I’d say on the top end we compete against some of those large ERP manufacturers” such as SAP and Oracle.
Then again, he added, those companies also can be Take Supply Chain’s partners. “We understand ERP very deeply – whether it’s Oracle, SAP or your other major ERP systems – and we typically use those systems and their database as our database.”
That provides a single source for verification and up-to-the minute information, he said. “All entities that are tapping into that data have that single source of truth in real time.”
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.