A 17-year-old industry group is trying to improve supply chain efficiency by standardizing and harmonizing electronic communications between automakers and suppliers.
Odette - which stands for Organization for Data Exchange by Tele Transmission in Europe - is working through four, cross-linked functional committees, including a recently created business-to-business group.
The group was founded to promote fast, efficient data interchange between businesses active in the European auto industry.
Odette has been in the business-to-business arena since the mid-1980s. A new legal structure operational since April 2001 transformed Odette into a limited company, Odette International. It has a seven-person board of directors led by Winfried Feldkamp, director of logistics at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz passenger-car division.
Other board members include Jean-Paul Meriau, vice president of e-Business at Renault, and Dick Monte, vice president of exhaust supplier Bosal.
Odette 'now has a unique chance to establish a new generation of supply network management, philosophy and collaborative engineering,' Feldkamp said.
In cooperation with the AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) in North America and JAMA/JAPIA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association/Japan Auto Parts Industries Association), the emphasis is increasingly on establishing global standards across the supply chain. That's a long way from Odette's roots as a facilitator of standardized electronic data interchange (EDI) messages within the UK.
Odette International, based in London, is funded by subscriptions from national auto industry associations including the VDA (Germany), GALIA (France), ANFAC (Spain) and the UK's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Functional committees and associated specialist project groups are staffed entirely by experts from member OEMs, suppliers, software specialists and logistics providers, funded by their employers.
Interests are balanced as much as possible, although attracting Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers, with their limited resources, can be difficult.
John Canvin, Odette Inter-national's general manager and one of only three full-time employees, says it is vital to get them involved.
Canvin also says Odette needs to stress potential cost-saving rewards.
'We need to push what Odette is doing up the management structure so people at the top are aware of the benefits which can be achieved,' he said. 'But it can be difficult to pin down cost savings to individual companies.'
The business-to-business functional committee has been operational since July and is focusing on four areas:
* Supply chain visualization (defining data flows from OEMs down through the supplier tiers)
* Request For Quotation, or RFQ (standardizing electronic request for information formats)
* Collaborative engineering (visualization tool compatibility and data format standardization)
* Demand-capacity planning.
Odette is confident that all working groups are moving rapidly to develop solutions. Preliminary findings from the supply-chain visualization study are scheduled to be presented at Odette's conference in Amsterdam later this month. The study has been driven by VW, BMW, General Motors, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Renault and Scania and suppliers including Bosch, Siemens, Freudenberg, Ficosa and Behr.
The demand-capacity planning study is designed to boost supplier reliability in the supply chain by collaborative planning, and is leaning heavily on VW's input.
Odette is also in regular discussions with established e-marketplaces such as Covisint and SupplyOn, both of which are interested in establishing supply-chain standards among their members.
Some complex issues immediately become apparent. Odette participants who are also Covisint members are likely to encourage active dialogue, while others are more wary of Covisint's position with regard to specific software providers.
Similar issues surface with SupplyOn, although Bosch's ownership of a majority stake in SupplyOn and its active participation in Odette appears to be encouraging closer cooperation.
There are undoubted benefits of using Odette's independent, non-profit making structure for driving harmonization of standards. But OEMs and suppliers want immediate e-Business action rather than discussions in working groups.
Most are continuously bombarded by software suppliers eager to sell custom solutions promising supply-chain efficiency gains.
Canvin acknowledges pressures but believes attitudes are changing.
'Everyone felt they had to get on the bandwagon and appointed e-Business directors or vice presidents charged by boards to go off and do something,' Canvin said. 'Many have now stepped back and begun to ask questions such as how cost effective it is, how much time will it take and what all the possible solutions are.'
Canvin offers a realistic view: 'Odette is not a magical solution, simply a framework or neutral platform to bring people together,' he said. 'We've got no software solutions to sell and no preferences for anything - that's a clear message from the board.'