In today’s increasingly complex and digitally driven supply chain, where competitive advantage can quickly evaporate and on-time practically means yesterday, smart integration is essential to stay competitive.
Here are some primary ways to use integration to boost productivity and effectiveness:
1. Integrate existing platforms with vendor, supplier, distribution center, warehouse, yard and transportation management systems. Better collaboration with vendors through connected systems leads to overall improvements in inventory management. For example, integrating your transportation management system (TMS) with a warehouse management system enhances the flow of products within a facility, tuning operations toward omnichannel success. Cloud-based TMS is capable of handling existing operations, leveraging legacy system data, and helping shippers gain insight into inbound and outbound logistics in a single platform. Using the cloud, cloud-based TMS platform is also scalable, a pre-requisite for effective integration.
2. Use data for continuous improvement/refinement of systems. Consumers generate a mountain of data, and this information holds great value for effective supply chain management. Consumer data can be used for increased forecasting, but this is only possible through supply chain systems integration. Using consumer and company data helps identify threats and opportunities in the supply chain, so effective risk mitigation increases in both financial and physical supply chains. Additional sources of data, like social media, can be further integrated with systems to increase customer service levels.
3. Use blockchain technology. Blockchain technology is among the latest innovations in supply chain management, offering the promise of end-to-end visibility, decentralized data, and distributed information. As an incorruptible resource, blockchain could provide heightened accuracy in processes, virtually eliminating the need for invoice auditing programs. Since blockchain is not yet widely available for use in supply chain systems today, companies looking to increase end-to-end visibility should consider outsourcing freight auditing programs. This would require integration with third-party logistics provider (3PL) platforms as well.
4. Deploy IoT technology to gain insights. If understanding data in the supply chain is the goal, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the gatekeeper. It serves to collect data from across millions of devices, including internal company sensors and connected products in the possession of end-users, to give managers a window into consumer needs and wants. The number of IoT-enabled devices will exceed 40 billion by 2020, says Archana Venkatraman of ComputerWeekly.com, but this technology is not necessarily capable of communicating with all other systems. Disconnects develop, leaving data out in the cold, but integration ensures value in data, giving companies the opportunity to transform raw data into meaningful insights.
5. Automate data collection, management, and processes. Less physical work for employees and the system has the net effect of lowering operating costs and improving productivity. Automated systems, such as radio-frequency identification, Bluetooth-enabled devices, and robotics, can handle thousands more processes than their human counterparts. Such technologies may also take an active role, like active RFID tags, which self-report order status, location, and other data. Thus, supply chain transparency increases. As automated technology increases in use, integration will become a common thread in the supply chain.
6. Use integrated systems to connect with employees. Happy employees are productive employees, and not considering the needs and suggestions of employees may lead to hostility and a breakdown of collaboration between supply chain workers and managers. The simplest way to understand employee concerns and perspective lies in data, integrating labor management with performance measurement systems. Employees may use systems to access performance records, provide feedback to managers, submit incident reports, and more. This will provide a sense of accountability among employees, and managers can use such information in making decisions, altering the schedule, awarding recognition, building rapport between workers and managers, and lowering staff turnover.
The next technology is around the corner, and it will rest on a strong foundation of integrated systems.
Adam Robinson is the marketing director at Cerasis, a third-party logistics transportation management company.