Retooling retail supply chains

One of the most critical components of a successful business model is its supply chain, yet this is also one of the most overlooked areas. Supply chain management influences the success of a large portion of both internal and external operations, especially for retail and manufacturing companies. However, given the rise of e-commerce and the rapid proliferation of digital devices, this area is in a massive state of transition, making it necessary for many corporate leaders to reevaluate their approaches to supply chain management.

In an article for CIO, Bruce Harpharn recently pointed out that there are many factors complicating the supply chain environment for companies today and accelerating the need to uncover cost-savings opportunities, including economic volatility, price fluctuations and increasing security concerns.

However, in order for organizations to be able to compete among industry giants such as Wal-Mart and, a strong emphasis must be placed on optimizing supply chains in a way that enables faster deliveries and more personalized consumer experiences. And, as one supply chain solutions expert explained to Harpharn, "Better data and KPIs are key to meeting [the] demands for fast delivery. Many companies are still struggling with the accuracy of their inventory data." In addition, it was also noted that providing customers with more customized experiences requires more supply chain agility.

Smarter technology for better performance
An organization's network is made up of a wide range of stakeholders and pertinent parties, from warehousing facilities and manufacturers to retailers and carriers, all of which must be able to seamlessly communicate and coordinate throughout the order, fulfillment and delivery process. This, in turn, highlights the need for digital platforms, software and technological solutions that enable more integrative supply chain systems.

Digitalizing operations can be a tricky endeavor. Many industry experts have emphasized the importance of being careful and strategic about when and which technology investments are made. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a smarter supply chain; what works for one organization may not work for others. However, there are a handful of technologies that can be leveraged to improve the back-end performance of businesses. Below are some examples of the best digital innovations, services and solutions retail supply chain managers can benefit from using, based on which function or area they need to optimize.

  • Radio-frequency identification. RFID tags can be used to help enhance inventory management accuracy, as well as omnichannel fulfillment, by providing retailers with better tracking features and more control.
  • Predictive analytics software. Arguably the most versatile and useful technology for organizations today to invest in, analytics tools can help significantly increase levels of supply chain visibility, offering managers deeper insights into end-to-end operations that can lead to opportunities to reduce costs and enhance the quality of service. Gathering, aggregating and interpreting the enormous amounts of available data allows companies to identify and understand patterns in a way that facilitates future improvements.
  • Cloud computing. Cloud-based technologies and systems allow supply chain leaders to move away from operating in silos and provide retail companies with a platform through which to move their infrastructure to an environment that can be more secure, affordable and integrative than outdated ones. It is also becoming an increasingly popular investment for businesses to make as the vast amount of data they have to work with and host continues to accumulate. 
  • Robotic automation processes. According to Retail Dive, a survey previously conducted by MHI and Deloitte revealed that robotics is among one of the most common automation technologies organizations are investing in, with more than a third of the research participants saying they have used robotics to improve logistics and nearly 74 percent indicating it is a possibility for the near future. The use of robotics is especially beneficial when it comes to warehouse management, as it can enhance efficiency, increase operational speed, reduce safety risks, minimize costs and prevent theft.
  • Procurement and e-Sourcing tools. As supply chains face increased pressure to cut costs and improve flexibility, optimizing the supplier network is crucial. This is why it is highly recommended that companies leverage software solutions that allow them to more effectively manage contracts, obtain critical data and make fact-based negotiations. 

As new innovations and digital technologies continue to transform the way retailers operate, as well as what their consum​ers expect, it is going to become increasingly important for companies to be strategic in their investments. In order to ensure they are able to maintain profits in this ever-evolving landscape, sellers are highly encouraged to partner with a third-party consulting company that specializes in supply chain software and solutions. Doing so will significantly enhance the ability of organizations to streamline operations and make it more likely that they will be able to adapt in accordance with existing and emerging trends. 

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