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How to Keep a Floating City Supplied

With Amazon Business, Carnival Cruise Line has boosted efficiency and visibility in its procurement operations.

Procurement is a challenge for any business.


Procurement to supply the 25 “floating cities” that make up the fleet of ships at Carnival Cruise Line? Those challenges are extensive and unique, to say the least. With every voyage, “between 400 and 800 pallets of goods are going onto the ship,” says Scott Thompson, vice president, supply chain, at Carnival Cruise Line. “Everything needs to be manifested, staged, delivered, and loaded within an eight-hour window to complete the turnaround.”


To this, add the incredible diversity of goods required to keep a ship as large as a cruise ship functioning smoothly. “We’re dealing with an immense number of SKUs—thousands and thousands—and it can become overwhelming,” he says.


An operation of this scale needs procurement solutions that move in step with a digital age. “Prior to using Amazon Business, the word I would use is ‘frustrating.’ It was a very manual process, with lots of email traffic and spreadsheets,” Thompson says.


It also meant tremendous inefficiencies, from having to generate manual receiving documents, and scan and email packing slips, to finding the right owner for the goods once on board. The long process also led to high levels of “just in case” stock—items that not only take up valuable space on the ship, but also are subject to degradation over time, and might even need to be discarded before they can be used.


Delivering efficiency and visibility

In October of 2022, Carnival began working with Amazon Business to reshape its procurement processes. It was attracted first by the breadth of the catalog—Thompson says that over the first six months, Carnival ordered more than 6,000 unique items across 500 different commodity subgroups. But central to the value proposition was the ability of Amazon Business to help automate Carnival’s supply chain, particularly around items with high transaction volume but relatively low unit cost.

"We’ve removed questions about whether something’s available or not. Approvals happen digitally, so nobody has to ask over email. All of that nonvalue-added work is removed."

— Scott Thompson, Vice President, Supply Chain, Carnival Cruise Line

Working directly with Amazon Business, Carnival created a system in which advance shipping notices (ASNs) were transmitted directly to the cruise line. This digital record can be transferred to ships ahead of delivery, so that crews know what’s coming and can easily scan and route every item quickly to the right person or department. “Instead of runners going around with scanned documents and making copies, we’re reading bar codes off the box,” Thompson says.


And by integrating Amazon Business with Oracle’s E-Business Suite iProcurement module, Thompson says identifying needs and acquiring necessary products—previously a monthslong process—could be completed in just a couple weeks. Two-week purchase order processing times were reduced to minutes, with electronic approvals and delivery.


“We’ve removed questions about whether something’s available or not. Approvals happen digitally, so nobody has to ask over email. All of that nonvalue-added work is removed,” he says. Meanwhile, “ships are reporting they’ve lowered order quantities, and that frees up valuable space on board.”


Ship shape

Because so much maintenance and repair work must be done while ships are at sea, Carnival aims a significant amount of its purchasing through Amazon Business toward repair products such as parts for industrial-grade sewing machines used to repair upholstery and other fabrics. Here, the efficiency of acquisition with Amazon Business combines with the depth of the catalog to address significant needs. “We’ve been able to find parts where otherwise we would have had to scrap the machine,” Thompson says.


More equipment in use means a better experience for guests.


Thompson says Amazon Business’ punchout integration with Oracle iProcurement provides a seamless experience for Carnival’s business buyers as well. Amazon Business’ spend visibility and controls let Carnival’s procurement team empower employees to make purchasing choices that best fit their needs. “We’ve elected to present a ‘good, better, best’ categorization, and allow operators to make the decision for what they need in the moment,” he says. “We open up a lot of choice. If price is of highest importance, they can choose based on that. If it’s reliability or durability, they can choose that. It’s helped with the integrated buying adoption rate because people have the confidence to know they can get the tools they need.”


Barely a year into the relationship, Thompson is impressed with how quickly improvements have filtered through Carnival’s procurement practices. And because the relationship is so collaborative, he’s excited at the prospects for continued innovation, whether in deeper data integration or more complicated parts lists.


It’s exciting, he says, to truly transform critical processes. “It’s been really good to work with them.”


Originally published on the Wall Street Journal.

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