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Jan Husdal

Supply chain lessons in practice

Posted by Jan Husdal in Jan Husdal's Blog on Feb 26, 2011 4:47:21 AM

I've been busy this week...setting up my own supply chain. What...have I suddenly started buying and selling goods, you ask, but no, I'm talking about the supply chain of my main blog or website, husdal.com. While it has been more of a technical than a logistical challenge, the paralells to real-world logistics is strikinggly similar, as you may discover when you read on.

 

A years ago or so I wrote about the supply and demand side of a blog, and even set up a model framework for the supply chain of a blog. However, focusing primarily on the chain itself, I did not pay much attention to how the outgoing flows were delivered. In logistics lingo, I did not pay much attention to the carrier. I should have.

 

The delivery network is as important to a blog as it is to any business. It is important to have the right infrastructure, and what matters most as in much of real-life logistics, is delivery speed. Of course, initially, it may seem that the delivery speed for blog content depends primarily on the infrastructure on the reader side, i.e. the individual Internet connection, the current Internet traffic in the vicinity of the reader, the reader's device (PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry or whatever) and even which browser the reader is using, but not quite. In fact, it also depends on how I serve my readers.

 

Now, very few bloggers will use 1PL, that is serving the blog from their own computer in their own home or office. Most bloggers will use 2PL, that is hosting their blog with some webhost, where the actual blog resides somewhere on some server, most often in the US, as it is in my case. More correctly perhaps, this is 3PL, as you have little or no control or say in type of server or Internet connection from that server to the reader. In logistics terms this is a centralized warehouse.

 

As a rule, your server will also host many other blogs, so you will have to share resources with those, and if they have more traffic than you do, your 3PL, is likely to give them more priority, or you will at least have to queue until it's your turn to send out what the reader wants. This can be abated by securing a dedicated server that only hosts you, making sure that you are the preferred customer. That way you can make sure that you will not have to compete with others for the server's scarce resources. Ok, done that, my warehouse is now my own and not shared.

 

The reason why this is important is that a website served from a server is built on a Make-To-Order basis. The reader asks for a certain post or page, and the server assembles it on the fly. There's nothing on the shelf. However, things can be improved by using Make-To-Stock. In blogging lingo that is called caching. A cache will essentially preload or preassemble your posts, and when a reader requests them they are sent off in one go, much faster than making to order. That is very useful since the server doesn't have to assemble posts again and again, but can simply deliver what is in the inventory. Ok, done that, but still not happy.

 

Coming back to speed and the reader side, while caching delivers content en bloc, and thus improves reader experience, if the reader sits far from the server there will be some lead or lag time, even more so if his or her Internet connection is not up to par. While my post travels on a ten-lane freeway while still in the US, in some remote village in India, it may have to follow a narrow and winding dirt road. That said, considering Internet traffic, an empty dirt road can be much faster than a clogged freeway.

 

This is where decentralized warehousing can help, or in blogging lingo, Content Delivery Network, or cloud computing to use another word. Not only is it possible to have my posts made to stock, I can also predistribute them as close to the intended reader as possible, which means they may not have to travel the whole globe before reaching my reader, but can take the shortest and fastest path. This ensures timely and reliable delivery of my blog posts to any reader, wherever he or she may be. Ok, done that, and is it any good? Yes. In fact, it may even save me from a supply chain disruption, should my web host go down. Using a Content Delivery Network or CDN thus ensures flexibility and agility.

 

Is this 4PL or still 3PL? Not sure. What's your say?

 

So that is what I have been experimenting with this week, make-to-order versus make-to-stock and centralized warehousing versus decentralized warehousing. Judging by the performance meters, the latter won in both cases, and while my US readers on a broadband connection are likely not to see any difference in speed of my blog, I am sure that it will matter to my far-and-away readers. Because, in the end, like all businesses, I too must evaluate my customer base, i.e. reader base, and make sure that I serve them the product they ask for when they ask for it. Looking at my reader base, not all of them are in the US, but many of them are actually in the so called emerging countries, and I want to serve them just as well as I serve my American clientele.

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