Meeting the needs of a modern supply chain
A chain reaction
Consumer expectations are sky high these days. From flexible returns to real-time updates, there’s more pressure than ever on supply chains. At the same time, supply chains are global and complex. Gaining visibility and control of the fast-moving events that affect performance is more important than ever. Can you keep track of stock at every point? Can you on-board new partners without creating blind spots? Every little improvement matters. Every frailty costs your business.
It’s not lost on those responsible for the supply chain that the more visible and agile it is, the more competitive and profitable their business can be. The challenge is to connect the dots across systems, teams, countries and companies in real-time.
Taking stock. A reality check?
So, are companies facing the latest demands with the right level of insight? Well, in many cases, no. The fact is, plenty of supply chains still rely on siloed processes supported by computers with green screens and .dos operating systems. Or even fax machines.
There are those who will say that the antidote is to re-engineer your systems totally; to get ahead, you need a wholesale shift to the latest technologies like IoT sensors. But it will be hard for many businesses to justify that kind of expense. And it may not actually be necessary. There’s a whole range of options to match commercial realities.
A (recent) lesson from history
A bit of desk research on achieving real-time visibility in your supply chain will throw up plenty of talk of the IoT. But hype around the latest available tech is nothing new. We’ve been here before with RFID.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was going to revolutionise the supply chain. And it has certainly made inventory management tasks more efficient. Take the stock-taking of clothes, for example. A mere wave of a RFID wand can accurately tell you how many garments of various sizes are on a rail.
But uses like this are neat, niche solutions for a part of the supply chain – rather than a shift in how it works.
The same could be said for the IoT. It has the potential to enhance plenty of processes. Imagine, for example, how it could help managers of cold chains for medicines. IoT sensors could help them to maintain the right temperature and alert them to any issues in real-time.
But one type of technology won’t necessarily be the answer to all the questions at once. Different businesses have different pain points and priorities. So, a supply chain solution partner with your best interests in mind will start with you, your objectives and your processes. Then, they’ll draw on a range of appropriate options and technologies, including barcodes, RFID, machine vision and IoT sensors.
Ultimately, the right response to supply chain visibility is based on better information and tailored business process management, rather than technologies. It’s about prioritising issues and solving specific problems. You don’t have to boil the ocean to start making improvements.
Think big, start small, scale fast
It’s right to aim for end-to-end supply chain visibility. But it’s sensible to start small. Start with quick wins and, if a part of your process isn’t broken, you don’t need to fix it.
A supply chain visibility platform should be flexible enough to complement your process, so you avoid unnecessary re-engineering. You should be able to generate immediate value from your investment – whether that’s in improved control, better forecasting capabilities, real-time alerts or better supplier KPI reporting. These will cut waste and drive efficiency from the start.
You then need this platform to grow with you however quickly you change, and extend to other processes and new partners in your network.
With a connected supply chain – one that works with a single heartbeat – you could gain the edge you need in a competitive marketplace.