The next generation supply chain is something that people have been talking about for years. After being discussed for so long, I was wondering in what ways things had actually progressed and what innovations are on the horizon that will drive forward the next incremental updates in the supply chain and logistics industry? In this post I look at some of the ways that companies are innovating and using technology solutions to improve their supplier processes.
Back in the day, logistics providers largely just moved goods from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Today, supply chains look very different with manufacturers, traders, wholesalers, and end-consumers all expecting very much more out the relationship. As logistics providers look to involve themselves in every detail of their client’s business, more complex partnerships are taking form. Leading companies now take a broad interest in every element of the supply chain process, from arranging shipments of raw materials and goods to the factory, to transporting finished goods to the store-front and handling returns directly from consumers.
The evolution of supply chain documentation
It seems that data has been the driver for much of these early “next generation” changes. The new world of “big data” has enabled logistics companies to deliver additional insights and value to their end clients whilst simultaneously allowing them to optimize their own routings, prices and processes. Detailed analysis of structured data was an early quick win, but I see the next generation supply chain also needing to place significant emphasis on unstructured data such as documentation.
Shockingly, much of the documentation supporting shipping and logistics processes is still shared by traditional means. While the rest of the world has gone digital, sharing content and data electronically for many years, we still use paper, faxes, and email. Thankfully, there are signs that we are beginning to catch-up and more progressive logistics firms are using Enterprise Information Management (EIM) solutions to support the capture, management and sharing of this critical information. Where paper already exists it is quickly digitized and stored electronically, and in other instances content is created and shared solely within the electronic realm.
Effective data management and information sharing
Another area that has seen significant change over recent years is global trade. Gone are the times when transportation companies could make a solid business out of local deliveries. Companies such as eBay (US) and Alibaba (China) have increased consumer choice and revolutionized business thinking. Traditional retail stores are supplemented by on-line stores, customer outreach is moving beyond having to be in close proximity to the physical stores. On-line stores are practically taking orders 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! No longer are small businesses restricted by their own local market; now everyone can be a global player. Local relationships are still vital, but supply chains now commonly involve partners around the world, and logistics companies need to rapidly adapt to that.
With globalization comes other challenges and more flexible logistics firms are already jumping in to support the process. Each shipping transaction involves significant documentation: customer papers, tax declarations, bills of materials, … the list goes on. I believe that the ability to correctly generate, easily locate and securely share this documentation with all parties on-demand will be the oil that lubricates change within this area of any next generation solution.
Again, I am seeing EIM solutions being used to manage the processes surrounding this documentation. Workflows and version control enable required documentation to be generated and signed-off efficiently before shipments commence and complications arise. Records management ensures that content is retained for pre-determined amounts of time. While online portals and tight content access controls give companies the ability to share documents online, safe in the knowledge that their information remains secure. As part of their drive to deliver additional value, I see these solutions being provided by logistics companies as part of their broader client offering. A clever option that really cements them into the core of their client’s operations.
Compression, compression, compression
Another theme that I am hearing frequently is compression. Compressed timescales as clients seek ever faster processing and delivery times in the face of customer expectation. A compressed number of suppliers as businesses look to reduce their number of partners and simplify the process within their supply chain. And financial compression as companies look to make overall cost savings. The long-term survivability of every business depends on taking these factors into consideration and acting upon them.
Whether you’re a logistics provider or in any other business, the one thing that you don’t want to see compressed though is your customer base. Customers are everything, and customer experience is king. To enable them to deliver improved services for ever-better value, Amazon, WalMart, Lazada, e-Bay, etc. and other leaders are already making use of their enterprise information to deliver an exceptional customer experience. By granting instant access to transactional documentation and details, providing transparency into their business operations, and sharing real-time feedback and reactions with clients. they have been able to build trust and strengthen existing relationships.
Next generation supply chain = end-to-end logistics solution
So where is the next generation supply chain? It has certainly evolved over recent years; processes are becoming more flexible, delivery times are decreasing, customer experience is improving, supply chains now regularly cross the globe, and as technology continues to develop I’m sure we will see further innovation taking place.
But one thing has become clear to me. Tomorrow’s supply chain won’t be about individual savings or optimizations, it will be about partnerships. It will see logistics providers and their clients working together in a symbiotic relationship that benefits not only one another, but also consumers and end-customers. Watch this space.
If you would like to optimize your supply chain processes and experience next generation informatics solutions within your business, Fastman is here to make it happen. Reach out to us now to discuss your challanges and see for yourself how we help organizations deliver the future today.