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Network Rail has improved the visibility of its railway materials stock after implementing supply chain management software from Oracle.

The organisation's supply chain supports the maintenance and operation of more than 20,000 miles of track, 9,000 level crossings, 750 tunnels and over 40,000 bridges and viaducts.

It implemented an Oracle E-Business Suite Supply Chain Management solution onto its existing finance infrastructure under 'Project Synergy', which involved replacing a number of spreadsheet-based systems. The Supply Chain Management module has now been live for 14 months.

The project aimed to improve the efficiency of Network Rail's supply chain activities and reduce unnecessary stock levels in storage.

Previously, the company only had visibility of materials at stock locations that were manned full-time. It had a number of unmanned stores that ran an honesty box-type of system.

"We only knew twice a year what we had in physical stores when a third party went and did an inventory.

"Getting it on the system means we had got a better idea of what we've got," Alison French, senior analyst of finance systems at Network Rail and lead super user of Project Synergy, told the UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG) conference in Birmingham.

The twice-yearly physical inventories still continue to take place.

"This is now forming the basis for a materials management exercise nationwide, aimed at improving the efficiency of supply chain activities and establishing more appropriate and reduced stock levels," French explained.

The new Oracle system has also enabled Network Rail to standardise the approvals process for spend on materials, by using existing approval hierarchies established with Oracle.

Prior to this, the company used a third-party approval system, which was not connected to its Oracle E-Business Suite system and was operated by a different third party.

"[With the new system] it was much easier to track who was OK-ing the spend and provides a robust audit trail," French said.

Other areas of improvement included the introduction of a capability to run ad hoc reports on the company's supply chain, which Network Rail uses as the basis for business decisions.

This was not possible before when third-party suppliers submitted their reports as Microsoft Excel files.

Not everything went according to plan with the Oracle software implementation, however.

One of the main issues was that there was not enough time at the end of the implementation to train staff on the system.

"Because of the complex requirements, we found we couldn't move the end date of the project. We ended up with a very small space of time for training at the end. More time needed to be dedicated to training and knowledge-share prior to go-live," said French.

Another problem area was with Oracle's electronic commerce application iStore's search facility.

"This was one of the biggest issues for end users in maintenance functions. They're really struggling to find the specific items they need," said French.

"There's work going on to improve that, partly through looking at default options and briefings to users. [But] we haven't got an answer yet."