Lapp

<p>Regarding Wal-Mart and medicine: To be brief, Wal-Mart is adopting RFID and showing unbelievably good returns on its technology investment. Where Wal-Mart goes, other retailers must follow.</p>

Developed by Intel's LAN-chip subsidiary, Level One Communications, Cheetah was supposed to be shipped by early 1999. But Intel encountered some undisclosed technical problems with the chip, causing the delay, sources said.

Tokyo Electron's customers order parts two weeks before they're needed, but the distributor typically stocks more than two months' worth of inventory for each account, based on forecasts. About half of the distributor's customers communicate via EDI links, while the other half rely on faxes and telephone orders. The Internet, Kodama said, is generally used by small distributors, which Tokyo Electron sells through, but OEMs have been slow to follow suit.

The distributor operates a warehouse in Yokohama, where it also provides programming and kitting services.

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Under the Japanese system, distributors do not actively compete for customers. Instead, they are assigned” customers by the chip suppliers. The reason we have this system is that the customers don't want to deal with multiple distributors,” Kodama said. North American and European OEMs, by contrast, generally buy through three or four distributors.

While North America's biggest distributors have expanded their operations into virtually every industrial region in the world, most-including leaders Arrow Electronics Inc. and Avnet Inc.-have yet to gain a foothold in Japan.

These distributors have cited cultural differences, decades-old tradition, and strong internal ties to the mighty kiretsu as the biggest obstacles to cracking into the multibillion-dollar market.

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Kodama said his company has had talks in recent years about linking up with U.S. distributors, but nothing has come of it. We've had discussions, but we don't see any benefits,” he said.

Motorola's Katajima, however, said that, step by step, it's only a matter of time before U.S. distributors participate in the Japanese distribution business.”

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In another sharp contrast to the North American distribution model, nearly all Japanese distributors do no business outside the country. One of the few exceptions is Marubun, which has operations in other parts of Asia and is in a joint venture with Arrow Electronics for business outside Japan.

Kodama said Tokyo Electron has looked into expanding globally, but concluded that we can't make any money” in other parts of Asia. That's because component pricing in those regions is much lower than in Japan, so the company couldn't offer the same support services it does at home and still remain profitable.

The newly formed Coalition for U.S.-Russia Trade, a fast-growing grouping of trade associations and companies that strongly support Russia's entry into the WTO, commended both the U.S. and Russian governments for reaching an agreement in principle on Russia's commitments for WTO accession.

Information Technology Industry Council president and CEO Rhett Dawson called Russia an important market for the U.S. IT sector, and completion of the bilateral represents an important step in further integrating Russia into . . . rules-based global trading.”

Russia has averaged nearly 7 percent growth over the past seven years, and per capita income has risen sharply. More and more U.S. businesses are noticing Russia's dynamism and reorienting their global business strategies accordingly.

The U.S.-Russia Business Council, a trade association representing some 300 U.S. and Russian corporations, serves as the secretariat for the Coalition for U.S.-Russia Trade.

The coalition will be the driving force for the business community's efforts to educate members of Congress and their staffs on the thriving bilateral U.S.-Russia economic relationship and the opportunities for U.S. business opened up by Russia's entry into the WTO. It will discuss the benefits to U.S. companies, farmers and workers, and the level playing field on which they will engage foreign competitors.

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Originally, we had all of the agents answering phone calls and e-mails, but we've migrated more towards specialization,” says Weber. We have found that some agents are better suited to handle e-mail than others. We have a set number of agents who are dedicated to e-mail and a number of agents who only answer the phone. We can roll over depending on the volume.”

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