1. Improving Your Strategy with Supply Chain Technology
How you improve your supply chain strategy depends on the specific needs of your business. But there are five tech trends that leading companies are leveraging today to operate more efficiently, maintain agility and make smarter decisions.
Below we’ve rounded up the top, common supply chain challenges and how to leverage technology to improve in these areas:
- Accurate demand forecasting
- Inventory automation, inventory management overall
- Reliable, real-time analytics
- Streamlined, integrated systems that can scale
- Enhanced customer communication and satisfaction
Accurate Demand Forecasting
Three important components of predicting accurate demand are:
Historical data: review demand for the past year, and past few years to identify any cycles or trends. Take the current economic climate into account in your analysis of historical data to make more reliable predictions.
Sales forecasting: what is your current sales pipeline, and how will that affect demand?
Current inventory: do you have online access to inventory count numbers (and are they accurate)? Know what you have on the shelves today.
Supply chain management software provides access to this data within one software suite, for streamlined (and easier) analysis. Integrated systems for inventory, sales, and finance enables one master view for faster, smarter decision making.
Keeping inventory levels balanced is at the heart of every supply chain strategy. Leading supply chain technology includes tools for:
- Inventory automation
- Viewing and managing inventory for one or multiple locations
- Cycle counting
- Item tracing/tracking
Going through the process of implementing supply chain management software is an opportunity to evaluate your inventory and warehouse management overall. Adopting supply chain technology provides a framework to:
- Understand your current inventory
- Evaluate the current organization of your warehouse
- Put a barcoding system in place
Current Issues - Manufacturing & Distribution Survey Results
Source: Managing Inventory to Enable Agility for Manufacturing and Distribution Companies, Chainlink Report June 2020
Supply Chain Analytics
Only 9% of small-to-midsize manufacturers and distributors recently surveyed said they are taking advantage of analytics and machine learning. This explains why, in the same survey, companies listed “continually finding itself in either overstocked or understocked positions” as their top concern. * Supply chain software features:
- One master source of data (including information from key integrated systems like Shopify, Shiphawk etc.)
- End-to-end reporting
- Cost comparisons
- Tracking inventory throughout the supply chain
- Access to real-time info
- Easy reporting tools
Integrated Supply Chain Technology
An enterprise software suite should include applications for all major company operations – supply chain, inventory, finance and accounting, sales, etc. However, it’s very likely there are other applications that you use to run your business – tools for ecommerce, marketing, shipping and transportation, tax solutions.
While tier 1 enterprise software suites include all of those functions too, you might prefer your existing solution. In that case, make sure to select a supply chain management software that easily allows for integrations to other important systems.
Enhanced Customer Experience
Over the past decade, Amazon and other industry giants have significantly changed the game as far as customer expectations. In both B2C and B2B spaces, buyers today expect:
- Regular and timely communication regarding their order and shipping information
- Fast, on-time delivery
- Easy online buying experience, and easy access to customer service support
Your supply chain strategy should address these customer benefits and more, and the right supply chain technology will support turning that strategy into a reality.
2. Revisiting Your Supply Chain Strategy
There are many factors that go into a strong supply chain strategy. Consider the ideas and resources below as you build or revise your strategy.
Understand your buyers
Here are a few questions to consider and answer about your potential buyers:
- What is your ideal customer profile (ICP)?
- How do you market and sell to your ICPs?
- What is important to your prospects and customers, what challenges are they facing?
- What are their expectations as far as customer experience?
Understand your competitors
How much attention you pay to your competitors is a balancing act, like so many things in business. You need to know enough to successfully compete but shouldn’t be more focused on your competitors than you are on your own operations.
Make sure you understand, at a high-level, how you stack up against competitors. Use tools like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to make a comparison and understand your place in the market.
Understand industry trends – including tech trends
Take advantage of trade shows, conferences, and online industry resources to understand industry trends. Learn how industry-leading players are leveraging cloud technology, machine learning, and automation.
Factor in economic considerations
Your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum – as you’re well aware, industry and larger economic trends definitely come into play. Stay apprised of what’s going on with the national and global economy, and define how you’ll manage your business in uncertain times.
Focus on agility
Foster the ability to be nimble with your supply chain strategy. The most important asset that will enable agility is real-time visibility into all key data related to your business and supply chain. Use data to make informed short-term and long-term plans, and leave room for flexibility in both. Plan for various scenarios.
Sustainability is a financial factor. Running your business sustainability saves time, reduces costs, increases efficiency, and reduces waste. Tax credits as well as local, state, utility, or other federal incentives are also available for companies that use sustainable best practices. And, depending on your location or industry, there are likely regulations that you must comply with as far as energy and environmental policies.
3. Supply Chain Management Software
Supply chain management software is normally part of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software suite. ERP software packages vary, but generally include applications for:
- Financial management and accounting
- Order management
- Transportation management
- Planning and budgeting
- Product lifecycle management
- Warehouse management
- Supply chain management
- Inventory management
- Manufacturing management
- Supplier and vendor management
- Built-in, real-time analytics
- Reporting tools
Capabilities and Benefits
There are numerous business benefits of ERP and supply chain software. This is, in part, why the global ERP software market is projected to exceed $78B by 2026.* Every year, more and more businesses of all sizes are implementing ERP software.
Many businesses leverage ERP to:
- Reduce IT costs (often through increased efficiency and cloud technology)
- Reduce inventory levels (often through better inventory management overall)
- Reduce cycle time (faster production and delivery of goods or services to buyers)
Specific benefits of supply chain management software include:
- Better planning capabilities
- More effective execution of operations
- Stronger collaboration
- Real-time visibility into the entire supply chain
- Optimized delivery of goods, and reduced lead times
- Reduced costs
Selecting the right Supply Chain Technology
There is a specific set of criteria to evaluate when selecting ERP and supply chain management software.
- The functional fit for your organization: does the software meet the needs of your business?
- Industry usage: is the software common in your industry; is it a proven industry solution?
- Price: is the software cost feasible for your business? What ROI can you expect?
- ERP vendor: how long as the product been on the market? What is the future roadmap? Is the software vendor financially solid?
- Implementing software: when is the right time? How do you find the right consulting partner?
- The technology: how user friendly is the software? Learn more about what you can expect as far as data security, and overall system performance.
- Identify risks: enterprise technology projects come with some risk. Take the time to thoroughly plan the project.
- Future plans: will the software scale and adapt with your business?
- User references: speak with users and executives from other businesses using the software.
- Post go-live: have a plan for on-going support and training once you’re live on the new system.
Tying it All Together
It’s not news to you that a lot goes into an effective supply chain strategy. Gaining real-time visibility into your business operations is a huge step toward supply chain excellence, as well as toward keeping a leg-up on your competitors. ERP and supply chain software offer many benefits and are instrumental in supporting your current and future supply chain strategies.
Download the Guide | Advancing Your Supply Chain Strategy with Technology
Download the PDF version, including 5 additional tips to improve your supply chain strategy.