It was a crowded drive up I-65 from New Orleans to Atlanta. I was happy to be on the road, but felt like I was being herded like a sheep. It didn't get much better when I was instructed to meet my client for dinner at a restaurant of his choosing. The group event was put on by my Atlanta based client who was apparently trying to show off his "Southern" by hosting the party at Aunt Pittypat's Porch, a nice enough, if a bit over-done recreation of a Rhet and Scarlett era mansion.
I couldn't help compare it to the Court of 2 Sisters, the last restaurant I visited in New Orleans before my hasty retreat. Both establishments cater to countless visitors (I can only hope that the Court will reopen along with the rest of the city of New Orleans) and offer that "Extra" touch that is more ambiance than tangible. The difference is that the Court has a solid history, serving traditional entrees with no excuses for the cuisine's regional flavor. While, on the other hand Pittypat's is more a transplanted movie set with actors serving homogenized food. That's not to say it wasn't good... or that it wasn't expensive. It just didn't have that certain extra that only comes with the real thing.
As it turned out, one of my table-mates had just came from an assignment with a small food provider who was faced with changing his EDI transport provider. This food supplier has been working with a couple dozen customers, and routing his EDI transactions through an Internet based service provider for the last few years with no problems, and a great relationship with the provider. Then he was "invited" to switch to another service provider by one of his customers; Sysco Foods. Like my dinner invitation, he could have said no but would have been left without dinner.
So now this small supplier is forced to deal with 2 different transports because his customer made an arbitrary mandate. And what does he get for the extra time and effort he has to put in to learn the new system and to deal with 2 different systems? According to Sysco Foods and its mandated provider, iTradeNetwork he will get "several extra features." Extra features are great if you can use them. But just like there was more dinner on the plate than either I or my compatriot could swallow, more doesn't always mean useful.
Maybe iTradeNetwork provides a decent service offering. Maybe Sysco Foods has good rationale for its forcible tactics. If it does, it isn't talking. My call to Sysco's director of e-Commerce drew a flat "No comment," so I can't even guess at the company's motives or the advantages it expects to offer its trading partners.
For some reason I keep thinking back to Wal-Mart where a methodology and technology are mandated, but the competitive market is kept intact. The message being, "standardize on the technology, but use the marketplace to reduce operational costs." Specifying a particular vendor removes the opportunity to make competitive choices, which leaves room for uncompetitive practices. But since I couldn't verify them, I won't speculate as to what Sysco's or iTradeNetworks' motives might be.
As I was waiting to thank my host for his hospitality, I overheard our server explaining the dinner check to him. He had 25 guests, and the bill was for 23 dinners. I guess that when you're able to bring all your guests to the table, the restaurant is obliged to show its gratitude somehow.
I hope your week is productive. Be sure to send your donations and your prayers to all those affected by Katrina. Until next time...