The supply chain is full of surprises, and this year has certainly been exceptional in this respect. This industry is already facing many challenges, such as SKU proliferation, a multitude of partners, more distribution channels, demanding customers, the list goes on. 2020 added the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the mix, which forced companies to rethink the way they work. How do we cope with an increase in e-commerce paired with fewer people in the warehouse? How do we deliver at the doorstep while keeping a safe distance? So, how do we conquer these complexities? By thinking ahead and incorporating crisis mitigation and risk avoidance into our planning.
While every company is different, they all face similar challenges despite region, industry, or size of business. Even if we are in a crisis, the world can’t stay still. If a business deals with moving goods, supply chain management is at the heart of the organization. As the supply chain consist of many moving parts, there is a lot that can go wrong. Hence, resiliency is crucial. How do you build this into your business? By investing in technology, designing systems more flexibly, offering agile connectivity and integrations to a growing number of solutions that offer transparency up to the last mile.
Ultimately, where do you start and how can you brace yourself for the complexities ahead?
Stay flexible – managing highs, lows and disruptions
Resiliency requires flexibility. An adaptable technology platform allows quick changes, which helps handling unexpected events. In line with this, scalability is important, which is why technology such as autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) are a good option to prepare for peak seasons or unpredictable demand. With the rise of robots-as-a-service business concepts, there is no need to buy AMRs. Instead, you can hire them on the basis of a subscription service, which moves costs from a capital to an operational basis. When the need arises, more robots can be hired. Similarly, they can be sent back to the provider once peak season is over, which reduces the costs.
An infrastructure built for pivoting to add these systems without disrupting operations and further complicating difficult situations is necessary. A technology that can be used for more than 24 different processes in the warehouse alone is voice. Benefits are increased productivity and accuracy, which has a positive effect on employee satisfaction, and also reduces training time. A happier workforce is crucial in an environment where finding labor is already a challenge. Using voice helps staff fulfil their potential. In return, they are more likely to stay, which means saving on hiring and training costs.
When it comes to software, it pays to invest in a cloud-version of software, which offers better scalability at reduced costs. Plus, it’s accessible from anywhere rather than relying on a specific device for access if it’s installed locally – perfect for remote working.
Automate and give workers the tools to excel
In a world where labor challenges in the warehouse are one of the major problems, it’s important to think differently. Challenges range from shortages during peak periods to unexpected occurrences like COVID-19, forcing companies to do more with less.
To overcome these challenges, automated materials handling equipment can augment the workforce. Rather than replacing staff, they help where they can act faster, while humans concentrate on value-added tasks that machines can’t carry out. Layer pickers, for example, can manage up to 98% of all retail products. Automation can be a long-term solution whether you’re a small to medium-sized business or a large, global organization. Pair this technology with voice and you benefit from increased efficiency through automation and higher worker productivity.
Make use of your data – valuable insights for future planning
Use data for demand planning and forecasting. We live in a data-driven world. However, without insight that gets data working, you are losing out on an opportunity to plan resourcefully. Making strategic decisions to navigate the current market environment based on correct data sets using tools and applications for simulation and design, forecasting and optimization sets you up for success.
Communication between your systems is key - build trust through resilience
System integration can be a difficult task depending on which technologies you combine. But, it’s about more than technology; it’s about offering customers, partners and suppliers full visibility of shipments and material flow. This builds trust between all parties (and customer loyalty!) Consistent visibility from sourcing to production to retail also increases accountability at every link of the supply chain. This helps with manufacturing and demand planning.
Connectivity also gives customers critical information during crises. If you encounter a problem, such as not being able to ship some items as quickly as before, you can let your customers know in a timely fashion. This manages their expectations, increases transparency and means you are delivering excellent customer service despite a difficult situation. As a result, you strengthen the relationship with them and benefit from future business.
In addition, warehouse operators have to ask themselves what happens to their partners and customers if the supply chain breaks down. Are the operations resilient enough to serve communities and be there even in times of crisis?
Putting the technology puzzle together
The supply chain and its complexities are growing, but so are the tools at our disposal to cope with them. Unforeseen circumstances may have an impact on the way we work, but that doesn’t mean it’s an insurmountable challenge. On the contrary, it makes us more creative to solve them. Using a mix of technology at hand helps your business build resilience and work smarter. This eventually doesn’t only benefit you, but every member of your supply chain down to your partners and customer.