Comment: Why digitising supply chains can help pay for itself
For some businesses, digital transformation represents an opportunity to improve how it operates and connects with partners and customers; for others, it can seem like a headache with a considerable price tag attached explains Derek Bryan, VP EMEA, Verizon Connect.
While it’s true that any change requires careful planning, those in the ‘loathe camp’ may be overlooking the benefits and considerable return-on-investment (ROI) digital transformation can generate, especially across supply chains.
Opening the door for automation
Most supply chain managers are time poor and have many plates spinning at the same time. Digitising the supply chain can open the door for automating administrative tasks, freeing up time to improve operational performance. For example, it can help to check for human error or flawed data input throughout the supply chain, assist with job allocation, automatically update clients or supply chain partners on the status of jobs, and simplify compliance processes.
Automation is often labelled as a threat to job security, particularly those which involve physical labour as is commonly found in supply chain-based occupations. This is far from reality for two reasons: first, the technology required to carry out all the tasks required of a human worker is either too expensive or too sophisticated to be economically viable for businesses; second, automation tends to impact time-consuming, repetitive tasks such as reporting, job allocation and scheduling. This means that workers and supply chain managers are empowered to focus more of their time on value-add tasks while the admin gets taken care of.
Channelling value back to the customer
At its core, digital transformation has the imperative to make everything centred around meeting the needs of customers. While digital tools have enabled new service offerings to customers, the supply chains they rely on have become increasingly intricate. Not only do supply chain managers contend with more complex networks of stakeholders, they must also operate within narrower time frames due to rising customer expectations.
Most organisations already have the tools required to fulfil customer orders on time, such as route-planning, GPS tracking and live traffic updates. At the very least, customers expect to be kept regularly updated on the status of deliveries or engineers, especially when it comes to delays.
With the right digital tools at hand, such as an integrated software platform that automatically tracks the status of jobs and processes, organisations can enhance both the quantity and quality of customer touchpoints either online or via mobile applications – literally putting delivery information in the palm of the customer’s hand.
This also helps notify managers when mobile workers have completed a job, validate the condition of their cargo, and create or reassign jobs in near real-time, based on which worker is most suitable for each delivery or job. Not only does this mean workers are able to complete every aspect of their job
without disruption, but supply chain managers obtain a clearer view of whether their mobile workforce is operating effectively, and on time.
A digital supply chain can bring unexpected benefits too. The issue of vehicles being empty on their return journey is a challenge for lots of companies. Aside from the sunk fuel and worker costs, the shortage of drivers currently being faced in the UK makes it even more difficult for supply chain managers to reliably get goods to where they need to be, when they need to be there.
Enabling the integration of vehicle tracking systems with intelligent software platforms to provide updates on available freight capacity in near real-time, means businesses are able to fill empty vehicles on their return journeys by identifying their live locations and offering the capacity to companies looking to move goods to destinations on route. This means that assets can be utilised, helping to reduce empty miles and emissions, increase productivity, and making transport operations more cost efficient.
The future is software-defined
Digital tools don’t just sit on top of existing structures, they create a platform upon which supply chains are orchestrated. In an age where just about anything can be digitised, organisations can use this to identify operational inefficiencies in the supply chain and open up new revenue streams. Not only that, the inherent flexibility of software-defined supply chains gives businesses the chance to do this continuously and easily scale their products and services to meet changing demands.