Translations to help my friends in the Supply Chain profession who are suffering from geek envy. If you don't read every computer magazine printed and sleep with a pillow instead of your keyboard, these descriptions might help you bridge the technology gap.

Note:  If a vendor uses an electronic commerce or computer term that doesn't seem to make sense; try me. Drop me an email and if I can I'll try to provide a practical explanation. More recent entries are at the top, older entries at the bottom might be getting a little stale.

If you are a geek,  I'm sorry if these descriptions screech like fingernails on a chalkboard. However, I believe that people need to know the car runs better on gasoline flavored go-juice than milk;  even if they don't fully understand the petroleum cracking process.

If you would like more technical explanations there are several great web sites around to look up computer and Internet terms.

I hope you find these explanations useful anyhow.  I'll be adding to this list as subjects arise in our EC discussions.

Index: E-Commerce Catalogs | Secured Socket Layer (SSL) | TCP/IP | Web-enabled Commerce

A cookie by any other name…….

A cookie is a small file saved on a user’s computer which stores data being used by a specific web site. Most cookies are innocuous, storing your Google search preferences for example. Thus each time you visit Google, the web site finds the cookie and recognizes your settings. This is usually a good thing. Some cookies store too much information and should be deleted – but it’s not usually a big problem. You can view the cookies stored on your computer by Internet explorer. Open the Tools Menu > Internet Options > on the General tab look for Temporary Internet Files, open the Setting Button and select View Files.

Cookies are small files and unless you have thousands of them, they don’t take up much space. Nor do cookies “bog down the system”. Just like a pile of old magazines in the corner, most cookies don’t do anything – they just sit there.

Should some cookies be deleted, yes – but I’d suggest you leave the cleanup to a program you can trust. I like Karen Kenworthy’s cookie utility (and just about everything else she does) www.kareware.com or there are other spyware programs that will do some cleanup work. For great references on cookies take a look at the information on my favorite technical support site, Fred Langa’s www.langa.com

Here is a simple description of cookies. Think of cookies like you would a name badge at a conference. People attending the conference (an internet web site) get a name badge (a cookie). The name badge identifies the individual and includes information the individual chooses to share with other people at the conference. It could also be marked with your special food preference for meals, etc. The every time you visit conference event, you will be recognized and your preferences known. Is it convenient - yes. Can you live without it – sure. If you choose to throw it away, it means you’ll just have to re-register each time you attend a conference event. Would I let a conference put my social security number on the name badge – no. The conference can only put information on the badge that I give to them in the first place.

Do I wear a name badge at conferences – mostly. Sometimes in trade shows I’d rather no one know who I am, so I toss the badge. Do I allow web sites to store cookies on my computer – mostly. In Internet explorer you can set a safe cookie level. Change your privacy settings to change what cookies can be stored and which ones will be prevented. Tools> Internet Options > Privacy.


What the heck is NTFS?

If you have upgraded windows operating systems in the past few years you have probably been asked if you want to use the FAT, FAT32 or NTFS file system. Unless you have nothing else to do at night but read technical bulletins, you probably don’t know and don’t care what the difference is. But, just in case you lie awake at nights wondering if you made the right choice, here is a simplistic explanation.

FAT (File Allocation Table) and its successor FAT32 are the older filing systems that preceded the newer NTFS (New Technology File System). All three are methods for storing and finding files on a hard drive. That is, Windows needs a way to be able to find any one of the thousands of programs, pictures, music and game files crammed onto your hard drive.

Think of your files like books in a book store. If it’s just a small bookstore, storing all of the books on shelves alphabetically by author works just fine. (FAT). If it’s a larger bookstore, a better system is need so we don’t have to keep rearranging books to make them fit on the shelves. So larger books stores find it more efficient to sort books by category and then by author’s last name. (FAT32).

In a very large facility, such as the New Your Public Library, the only way efficiently store and retrieve anything is to have a whole different kind of storage system – like the Dewey Decimal System. (NTFS).

In all three examples, the same books could be stored in three different ways. If you are storing thousands of books trying to keep them all alphabetized would be very time consuming and make it difficult to find anything. And so it is with larger hard drives and thousands of files. So a new technology was developed (NTFS) to manage the storing and retrieving of files.

With smaller hard drives, the old system of FAT32 works fine and can even be a little faster. But, with larger hard drives, choose the NTFS system. NTFS also has some security benefits if you are really paranoid.

This example also helps us understand what defragmenting a hard drive does and why it’s necessary. Under the FAT file systems, when I add and remove files they can get placed out of order and scattered to any available empty space. This can cause the system to take longer when storing or retrieving files. Defragmenting, is just giving the system a chance to organize and straighten out the files. This isn’t as big an issue with large hard drives using the NTFS system. Since NTFS stores files based on an index, there is not as much need to defragment.

We made the same type of storage decision years ago when we decided to switch our inventory to a random storage method.



Survey Method of narrowing a sourcing list

This is an interesting process I glanced at on a reverse auction service provider's web site. Their reverse auction software provides the capability to send questions to suppliers which are then be used to rate the supplier. The survey can be a one-time action or there can be many survey conducted during the course of the solicitation period. Similar to holding a round of questions with offerors then requesting updated proposals. In this case the questions can be distributed to interested parties dynamically before they are asked to prepare a proposal.

I'd be a little concerned that any one offeror would use this process to steer you into a restrictive specification. On the other hand, it's not much different than performing a market survey - only in this case it's live and dynamic.

ASP: Application Service Provider

Generally refers to an online application where the software and functionality resides on the service provider's web site. The   product is sold as a web-based service not a licensed software. With the growing power of the internet and simplification of software, web-based tools are becoming very common and much more reliable. Bypasses most of the problems of obtaining software, installation and maintenance on the user workstation. Usually applications are opened in a web-browser window, just like we would a public service such as Amazon. Software (if any) required to reside on the buyer's computers is minimal (called Thin Client).

Examples include services such as travel booking, expense reporting, employee benefits, remote training, transportation routing, etc..

Even though it might seem easy, there are some significant concerns buyers must address in writing a contract for this type of service. Since employee data could reside in the supplier's computer system, data privacy, security and ownership are key issues to address. Not to mention concerns such as up-time, availability, user help, system support, reporting, etc.  A good place to start a shopping list of important contract issues would be in the old E-commerce Trading Partner Agreement we drafted quite a few years ago. (I hope to update the example TPA later this year).

Sourcing Event

I ran across this on some of the more recent electronic commerce web sites. We used to call these solicitations, requests for quotations, and request for proposals. In this case vendors are using the term more generically to describe how they can help with selecting a vendor/supplier/contractor.  Seems like the biggest risk would be to let this terminology displace the Supply Chain term that specifically describes to vendors what you are actually doing. Example: I'm not issuing a sourcing event; I'm using a sourcing event to manage an RFQ, reverse auction, RFP, request for interested parties, etc.

E-Commerce Cataloging

One of the issues you will have to decide when implementing an E-Commerce solution is "Who will keep the order catalog?". Seems like a mundane question, but catalog location and maintenance is one of the significant differences between various E-Commerce suppliers and software.

The printed catalog we get in the mail from Book-of-The-Month club is an example of a supplier owned and maintained catalog. Any order we place uses the new prices, changed descriptions, added items, updated shipping charges, etc. The advantage to us is that we don't have to try and keep track of the changes, when the new catalog shows up, we can just throw away the old. The advantage to the supplier, is that they can control their own business by stocking and selling what they want at whatever price they want to propose.

Our weekly grocery list is an example of a customer owned catalog. We decide what is on the list, and are responsible to keep it current. If the kids want a different breakfast cereal we have to make the change to the list before going shopping or run the risk of buying something no longer wanted. The list may also include a target price. "We'll buy Tofu only if it is on sale at less than $1.00 per pound. etc" The advantage to us is that we decide what to purchase and can use any distributor.

The buyer and seller could also hire a third party to keep and maintain the catalog. The "Taste of the Northwest Restaurant Coupon Book" is a simple example of a third party catalog. We pay for the coupon book, the restaurant pays to have coupons included and the book producer is responsible for getting the descriptions correct, making changes, advertising, etc. Does the added purchase price of the coupon book pay for itself? In this case the answer is obviously yes, or else we wouldn't buy it and the restaurants wouldn't participate.

Each of these three catalog systems solves issues like: maintenance of descriptions; item price; accuracy; administrative effort; preparation cost; distribution to customers; responsibility for mistakes; numbers of items to be included, in a different way.

When setting up an E-Commerce solution for your company, the catalog decision will be based on factors such as numbers of internal customers, numbers of items on the contract, pricing method, risk of errors, flexibility, etc.. Your decision about cataloging also makes a difference in the E-Commerce software you purchase as well as impact the options you have in contracting with your suppliers. Of course all of the other E-Commerce issues, (electronic communication, computer compatibility, user interface, etc.) will also affect the catalog decision. It shouldn't be a surprise that each Electronic Commerce company has recommendations and alternatives for handling the catalog issue.

As a buyer you have the opportunity to research this subject and make sure that catalog maintenance is part of the E-Commerce planning and purchasing process. This is not a decision you want to make by accident. You can start the collecting facts by discussing catalogs with various E-Commerce facilitators. A partial list of E-Commerce facilitators is at www.mltweb.com/ecref.htm.

Secured Socket Layer (SSL):

Important for those worried about Internet Privacy. When my computer talks to other computers on the Internet, the discussion often takes place in computer "English". Anyone else intercepting the message can read and understand the transmission. Some Internet Web sites protect against this party line by using encryption to protect the transmission.

When your computer talks to one of those "secure" web sites, the conversation is automatically encrypted so that no one else can read it. You web browser should have a little picture that tells you when it is connected to a secure web. Look for a key or padlock.

SSL is the term for the "secret decoder ring" that makes this work.

Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)

This technical term refers to how the internet gets information, pictures, sounds video, etc. around the world. It's not real important that non-technical people understand what this means, but it drove me nuts every time a geek used the term.

Imagine taking a troop of girl scouts and a troop of boy scouts to the waterpark at the same time. [Don't try this trick at home!] Line booth troops up at the top of the slide tower, send them to the bottom and get them all lined up again. Each troop may use only one of the many slides and send each person in order down the slide one at a time. Very slowly and predictably the line will re-form at the bottom of the slide.

The troop (either girls or boys) is your message. The individuals are the words (information packets). You can't put them all on the slide at the same time, so you send one word down the slide at a time. The message re-forms at the bottom. Very SLOWLY! Now if you want to speed this up....

Number the people in line ( boys are b1, b2, b3, etc; girls are g1, g2, g3, etc.). Now tell them to get to the bottom as fast as they can and let them use any of the many available slides they want. It doesn't matter if one person uses a slide that goes the long way around, the "word" will still find the right place in the right line at the bottom when it gets there.

TCP/IP refers to the process of breaking your message into information packets, giving each an address, sending them down the many possible electronic slides of the internet at the same time and re-assembling them in the right order at the other end.

Web Enabled Commerce:

Used to describe in general terms how a software package and Electronic Commerce Solution Works. If the product is Web-Enabled, it means that it uses your existing Internet connection and internet browser software rather than a separate or new software program.

Kind of like hitching a rented trailer to your car to move orders and information back and forth to a supplier. This rented trailer works for most any kinds of cars you drive, with little modification and effort on your part. You don't have to learn to drive a new vehicle to be able to use this solution.

The alternative would be to rent a U-Haul truck to use in the ordering process. The U-Haul truck might be able to carry bigger loads, but now you have two vehicles to drive, maintain, license, etc.

Amazon.com uses web-enabled ordering technology so anyone can log in and place an order regardless of the type of Internet Browser Software they have.

An example of the opposite type of solution is the connection travel agents use to place ticket orders with the airlines. It took special training to operate the system, special computer terminal, etc.etc.etc.

If I have a lot of users to train; I want to hitch the e-commerce solution to their existing software just like the rented trailer. I don't want to have to teach them how to drive truck!

Hope the helps!


Find articles about negotiation and creative contract solutions in the MLTweb Purchasing Toolbox at http://www.mltweb.com/prof/tools.htm and in the BuyTrain news article archive at http://www.mltweb.com/tools/buytrain/index.htm

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