Company: Lynx Technology
Submitted by: Lynx Technology
Date: November 2001
Logistics is a complex activity. So imagine handling the mass distribution of 2,300 different editions of 218 monthly and weekly magazine titles each year (around 35% of the UK consumer magazine market). This is precisely the challenge faced by Frontline. Now, a supply chain integration solution from Lynx is helping Frontline to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
With 230 employees and an annual turnover of £650m, Frontline is jointly owned by four of the UK’s leading publishers: EMAP, Haymarket, BBC Publications and AtticFutura. It handles the UK and overseas logistics for well-known titles including FHM, Radio Times, Teletubbies and What Car?
“Our role is to get the magazines to market quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively,” says Nikki Heyworth, Frontline logistics project manager. “Lynx has provided us with a Web-based solution that integrates and optimises our highly complex and fast moving supply chain.”
Managing the chain
Frontline works with printers at 21 locations, plus finishing and packaging companies, fulfilment houses and subscription mailing partners. Distribution reaches via a hub to eight depots, 70 wholesale locations and over 55,000 retailers, in addition to overseas agents.
With 150 business units involved in every issue of a magazine, ensuring good communications is essential. “It’s a fast moving business with fixed publication dates, so an hour lost or gained can be critical,” says Heyworth. “We wanted to improve the supply chain by ensuring better communications. This is why our new system’s called relay — we’re passing knowledge along the supply chain like a baton is passed in a relay race.”
Streamlining the process
The first stage of the business-to-business extranet encompassed the finishing operation that covers finishing houses in 28 locations. These companies are responsible for cover mounting free gifts such as CDs, books, sunglasses and, on one memorable occasion, inflatable ‘Spice Girl’ dolls.
Previously, supply chain processes were managed using disparate IT systems and manual approaches, leading to poor levels of process control and performance information. “We were reactive — ‘fire-fighting’ rather than managing the process proactively,” says Heyworth. “For example, our account managers spent over five hours a day on the phone, chasing things up.”
An e-business process integration and workflow solution, designed and delivered by Lynx, was the answer.
Improving efficiency, controlling costs
In May 2000, Frontline decided to create a logistics extranet to streamline and reduce the costs of all core business processes. “We wanted to track and control processes, integrate them across departmental and company boundaries, provide management information to improve performance, and integrate the solution with our indigenous systems,” says Heyworth.
Lynx was asked to propose the optimum approach. “Lynx carried out business consulting and technical analysis, working with users to understand our business needs, and then delivered a technical specification,” continues Heyworth. On this basis, plus estimates for time scales and costs, Lynx proceeded with design, development and implementation.
The race to deliver
Development began in November 2000 and the system went live at the end of March 2001 — a ‘quick win’. “This was a fixed deadline due to contractual arrangements with the finishing houses,” says Heyworth. Strict project management meant all deadlines were met.
Another success factor was the close working relationship. “Our project team combined Lynx and Frontline people,” says Heyworth. “Together, we evolved a solution to best meet our needs. Lynx helped to clarify our thoughts — we knew what we wanted but not how to achieve it. The Lynx people ended up knowing our processes as well as we did.”
Across the finishing line
The secure extranet is a customised system, developed using Microsoft Web Solution tools and server platforms. It works against a Lynx-designed database.
The browser-based interface means users simply need an Internet connection and e-mail account. Microsoft Exchange routes and escalates tasks, ensuring each process stage can happen on time; if slippage occurs, appropriate managers are notified immediately. Supplier performance is also monitored, enabling better-informed decisions about partner selection. The site includes easy-to-use functionality like a cost calculator for each job.
There are currently 23 users at Frontline, with a total user base of over 120. Heyworth says feedback has been very positive.
A new way of working
“It’s a new way of working, with everyone able to communicate online,” she continues. The system is e-mail driven and simple to use. “The publisher completes a request form online, we select the finishing partner, send the job to them, the finisher confirms deadlines, and the job’s booked. We can then monitor everything using a real-time work-in-progress screen. When a job’s completed, the finisher raises an online invoice. To our publishing partners we say it’s ‘your window on our world’. We have complete visibility of the supply chain, and can see exactly what’s happening.”
“We use the system to book all our outworking jobs and it’s made our lives a lot easier,” says Kelly Farrell, EMAP production manager for titles including Smash Hits and Kerrang!
With phase 1 complete, the objective now is to implement an end-to-end solution that supports Frontline’s entire operations; this means integrating relay with other systems, including finance.
Extranet = extra value
The results have been impressive, not least in the payback — project costs were recouped during the testing stage.
“We achieved our main goal of improving efficiency and reducing costs,” says Heyworth. “People spend far less time on the phone, roughly two hours per day, so they can be more productive and proactive rather than focusing on admin.” The team has saved around 73 person-hours per week. “Everyone involved understands the process better. In contractual terms, we’re better placed to manage our long-term finishing operations at a fair price. And we’ve gained credibility with our magazine clients and suppliers.“
She concludes: “Lynx worked unstintingly to deliver what was required. We’re very happy with the results.”