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Departments: Quality Software

Software Reviews

Web-Based Supplier Management

by Dirk Dusharme

When it comes to supplier management solutions, Supplier*Stream from MetricStream is at the high end of the available offerings. Astonishingly flexible and completely Web-based, it can be tailored to your supplier quality process. This may sound like an obvious point, but many competing products don't give you the same flexibility.

Supplier*Stream works much the way you would expect, with a shop floor worker, for instance, discovering a problem and generating a defective material report. A notice is automatically sent to the supplier quality engineer, who reviews the report and decides on a course of action, say, an internal corrective action report or supplier corrective action. Whoever is responsible for working on the corrective action—including the supplier— does so following the company's problem solving and corrective action process, filling out the browser-based forms, with notifications automatically handled by the product.

This is pretty standard stuff. The major selling point of this type of software, however, is what it does with the data. Supplier*Stream can present any kind of key performance indicators such as PPM, cost of poor quality, defective material events, number of corrective action reports written and more. Reports unique to particular requirements (TL 9000, for example) can be created; these include the number of problem reports, problem report response time, overdue problem fix responsiveness and hardware return rates. Alarms and notifications can be set for any condition. Performance indicators are presented in a variety of different chart forms that offer the ability to drill down through multiple reports until you reach an individual part. Supplier*Stream can also create cost-of-poor-quality reports based on material, labor and transportation costs. These can be tracked by location, division or product line with drill-down to the part level.

Supplier*Stream and all of Quality* Stream's related modules differentiate themselves from their competition by being entirely browser-based. With the exception of the server side installation, which includes the Oracle database server, Supplier*Stream and a Web server, there's no need to install software. All setup and configuration, reports, dashboards, forms and the like are accessed via a standard Web browser. The obvious advantage is that anybody can do anything with the product from any location with Web access. A possible downside for companies that communicate with remote sites via the Internet is that the large amount of data being transmitted makes some pages, particularly dashboards, slow to load. This particular issue is addressed by installing Supplier*Stream servers at each remote site and synchronizing the databases over the Internet every evening.

Initial setup by MetricStream takes about a day. Later changes to the process flow are accomplished via a nifty Web-based flowcharting application. Although Supplier*Stream is based on an Oracle database server and all product information (e.g., part numbers, associated assemblies, suppliers, customers) reside on that server, there's no need to maintain this information separately. Supplier*Stream will dynamically link to your existing ERP system and pull all required information.

Supplier*Stream is fully compliant with 21 CFR part 11, a strict set of rules governing electronic signatures and the traceability of electronic actions. Even if you aren't required to comply with this rule, the benefit is that Supplier*Stream provides a history report that shows all movement of, and changes to, records. So, it's almost impossible for an unscrupulous manager to "cook" reports or for the original intent or scope of a report to be lost, even after it has been highly edited.

Aside from some minor problems, which MetricStream quickly resolved, our biggest issue is that the user interface isn't always intuitive. Screens and dashboards aren't always clearly labeled, and it's possible to get lost in the navigation. MetricStream is currently addressing this issue, improving forms layout and providing more uniform labeling for dashboards, reports and forms.

The average price for Supplier*Stream ranges from about $36,000 for a small installation to around $250,000 for a large install. If you're a small company, there are less expensive, albeit less flexible, products that will probably meet your needs. If you do choose to have MetricStream demo this product for you, have the rep show you how to create custom reports similar to what you would use, show the types of key performance indicators that are critical to your operation, demonstrate the ability to adapt the supplier management process flow to your rules, discuss realistic return on investment and demonstrate the ability to link to your existing system.

About the author

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest's technology editor. Letters to the editor regarding this piece can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com.