The secret to making customers care about supply chain

Imagine a world where customers care about how products are sourced, made, and delivered, understand what goes into pricing, and generally take great joy in the experience. A world where customers are fluent in the language of supply chain.

It’s not as farfetched as you may think.

Supply chains solve complex problems. And in the company of supply chain professionals, we use big words and complicated terms to talk about it. Words like multi-modal logistics and global transportation, mass-customisation and postponement, procurement and letters of credit, demand management, the cost of inventory and buffer stock, assurance of supply, warehousing, and the last mile.

We nitpick over the differences between distribution and fulfilment centres, debate the true definition of supply chain visibility and the role of control towers to support orchestration across a complex network of suppliers, trading partners, and carriers. And we’re still not sure if our industries are facing an apocalypse or simply working through the growing pains of transformation in the digital age.

It’s a mouthful. And as we dive into the technical details and jargon that comprise the modern language of supply chain, one can’t help but picture the average consumer’s eyes glazing over.

But that’s not necessarily the case. There’s mounting evidence people care more about supply chain than ever – they’re just not using our words for it.

Therein lies the secret.

The words used to describe supply chain were different at the recent Shoptalk Europe conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, a gathering of more than 2,500 retailers, start-ups, technologists, and investors all focused on the worlds of retail, fashion, and ecommerce. Though most attendees weren’t purely in the business of operations and supply chain, all were exploring how to reach, engage, and enlighten the customer wherever and whenever they might choose to shop.

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Technology’s Role in Managing the Evolution of the Customer Centric Supply Chain

Having an effective supply chain has always been key to retail success. Whether you call it micro-merchandising or the customer-centric supply chain, the challenge has traditionally been to quickly identify trends or activity in a store that is outperforming the norm, and rapidly roll this out to all stores with similar attributes and customer behaviours. Indeed, much of the ‘flair’ that separated well- from poorly performing retail operators was down to the ability of some key individuals to spot trends, clusters and patterns that drove better understanding of customer behaviour, and act upon these insights to deliver to customers’ demands.

This macro-level insight is, however, no longer good enough. Today, retailers need to be able to understand not only how items are performing across the entire retail estate as well as within individual stores and spot trends and patterns accordingly; they also need to be able to marry this micro-level performance to geographic and demographic information to reflect the demand from a particular store’s customers. And, they need to be able to forecast how those same items will be performing in weeks and months to come.

This is the capability that is required to truly deliver today’s customer-centric supply chain. But it demands a level of detail simply too difficult for humans to manage. Software solutions are designed to raise the average performance level by helping the poor or below average operators benefit from the expertise of the higher performers and placing this supporting technology in the hands of those key individuals who would act as district or regional manager.

But the needs of today’s customer-centric supply chain have outpaced even the majority of these solutions.

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Big data analytics technology: disruptive and important?

Of all the disruptive technologies we track, big data analytics is the biggest. It’s also among the haziest in terms of what it really means to supply chain. In fact, its importance seems more to reflect the assumed convergence of trends for massively increasing amounts of data and ever faster analytical methods for crunching that data. In other words, the 81percent of all supply chain executives surveyed who say big data analytics is ‘disruptive and important’ are likely just assuming it’s big rather than knowing first-hand.

Does this mean we’re all being fooled? Not at all. In fact, the analogy of eating an elephant is probably fair since there are at least two things we can count on: we can’t swallow it all in one bite, and no matter where we start, we’ll be eating for a long time.

So, dig in!

Getting better at everything

Searching SCM World’s content library for ‘big data analytics’ turns up more than 1,200 citations. The first screen alone includes examples for spend analytics, customer service performance, manufacturing variability, logistics optimisation, consumer demand forecasting and supply chain risk management.

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How Does Big Data Analytics Help in Decision Making

Staying ahead in the game is paramount for any business organization to survive in this competitive world. The future poses challenges that need tackling in the present. Every decision made today has a significant impact on the future of that organization. The rate at which a company responds to challenges in the present and the future is what determines their rate of success. Data Science and Big Data analytics can help organizations in decision making and drive the company to a realistic future.

The Deciding Factor

It is paramount for businesses to understand the big data concept and how it impacts the organization activities. Discussed below are ways in which Big Data facilitates faster and better decision making;

Accelerating Time-to-Answer

The time cycle for decision making is decreasing rapidly. Companies have to make decisions more quickly in this period than in the past. Accelerating decision-making time is crucial for the success of any organization. The use of Big Data doesn’t change the urgency of decision making. Big Data analytics mitigates.

Customer reaction to a product is an important factor to consider when making a decision. Using data resources to understand the preferences of customers is one way of pointing out gaps existing in the market. However, the problem is how do you integrate and act in real time? The key is to know how to combine Big Data with your traditional Business Intelligence to create a more convenient data ecosystem that allows for the generation of new insights while executing your present plans.

Accelerating your time-to-answer is crucial for customer satisfaction. For example, if your answer time is usually in minutes, Big Data can reduce it to seconds. If it takes weeks for a client to have their problem tackled, then reducing it to days is more convenient for your customers. Customer retention is critical to the success of your organization.

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Why Supply Chain Risk Management is Key to Supplier Management

While brand damage can be quite costly to the businesses whose sales rely strongly on the customer loyalty they generate from their brand strength, cost volatility and supply disruption is very costly to all manufacturers. In fact, in the latest 2015 study by the Business Continuity Institute, supply chain disruption is double in priority relative to other enterprise disruptions and over three-fourths of respondents cited that they had at least one recent (significant) disruption. The same percentage didn’t have full visibility of their supply chains.

While category management can address and even reduce supply chain risk by ensuring a chosen strategy has the right level of resiliency, prevention and agility, it cannot prevent risk or do much to eliminate the source of risk once something has happened. That can only be done by each party in the supply chain doing everything they can to eliminate the risk. In particular, a supplier needs to do all they can to minimize the risk on their end.

However, not all suppliers are as advanced in supply chain management, and in particular, risk management as the buying organization. That’s why good supplier management combined with SCRM is key. Good risk management is a combination of risk prevention and risk mitigation when a risk is detected. Risk prevention involves selecting suppliers, products and services that are low risk and risk mitigation involves taking action as soon as an indicator is detected.

A supplier is not always good at mitigating or even detecting risk in its supply chain, or may overlook an obvious sign that an observant buyer would not, which is why proper supplier management is key. This begins even when qualifying suppliers. Including risk criteria related to the supplier and supplier location gives a good indication of a supplier’s the risk level. Besides the supplier qualification criteria, supply location-related risks provide an overview on potential threats like natural disasters, political situation, sanctions or economic risk. This gives buyers the chance to take preventive actions.

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Capitalizing on Cross-Docking

Today’s marketplace is moving faster than ever, and companies are challenged to distribute their products more quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively; cross-docking can be a useful tool to help keep pace with customer demand.

While cross-docking is not a new phenomenon, this process of moving material from the receiving dock straight to the shipping dock is gaining traction as more companies recognize its value in today’s competitive business environment.

Why Cross-Dock?
Companies choose to cross-dock for a variety of reasons.

Common benefits include:

Increased speed to market – With high turn rates and reduced handling, cross-docking helps to increase efficiency and get products to market faster. While typically associated with durable goods, cross-docking can be effective for temperature-controlled, perishable and high-value/high-security products as well, thanks to its high velocity.

Reduced costs – Cross-docking requires a smaller footprint than traditional warehousing and often utilizes less labor as well. The practice also eliminates the cost of inventory and product rotation. Considerable freight savings can be achieved by consolidating LTL shipments into full loads.

Improved service levels – Because product is shipped in bulk and picked at the cross-dock, the practice offers great flexibility for changes to orders further down the supply chain. This helps to ensure a more accurate – and more responsive – process with shorter order cycles.

Prime Candidates for Cross-Docking
Just about any type of product can be cross-docked, but cross-docking is particularly effective for companies that are moving heavy volume on any given day and need to do it in a precise way where service is critical.

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How to recover from supply chain disruptions

Risk mitigation is a crucial component of supply chain management. Preparing for potential disruptions is one of the most important yet challenging tasks faced by company managers, especially since there is an abundance of possible situations threatening operations at all times.

Unfortunately, damage control planning is something many companies tend to neglect. Last year, a study conducted by the supply chain management team at the University of Tennessee found that only about 50 percent of businesses have a recovery process in place to reference in the event a facility’s operations are interrupted.

Importance of response planning
Companies of all sizes are susceptible to dangerous disruptions, with global supply chains being the most vulnerable. Which is why it is surprising that the report also discovered nearly all, or 90 percent, of surveyed organizations do not take potential risks into consideration when outsourcing.

It’s understandable that managers are generally more focused on improving day-to-day operations, such as customer service, identifying cost-savings opportunities and driving revenue. However, disruptions along the supply chain have the power to severely impact financial growth and overall performance.

Between natural disasters, security breaches, safety and regulatory compliance and system failures, it is virtually impossible to anticipate what will be affected and when attacks may occur. But the best approach for supply chain teams to take is implementing strategic risk management practices that will help minimize monetary losses associated with disasters.

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Big Data: The Latest Rage in Supply Chain Management

Early uses of big data were concentrated in two areas: customer segmentation/marketing effectiveness, and financial services, particularly in trading. Recently, supply chain has become the “next big thing.”

Why? A company’s supply chain is rich with data, and it’s also a large cost component. Combined, those facts mean that advanced analytics can become a strategic weapon for optimizing the supply chain.

However, many companies can’t see the forest for the trees. They are optimizing, but not strategically. When applying data to supply chain, it’s critical to step back and look at what truly drives business value.

“They’re Digging in the Wrong Place”

As every fan of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” knows, Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant first. The Germans had far greater manpower and resources and they were more efficient, but they were competently digging a hole in the wrong place. The same goes for using big data in supply chain optimization. You could have the most efficient process in the world, but if you’re making the wrong amount of the wrong product, it will hurt your business.

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How visibility can drive supply chain performance

How visibility can drive supply chain performance

At its heart, supply chain management requires a balancing of operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and quality. Managing the true cost to serve each and every order is the aspiration to allow better negotiation and value creation across the supply chain. Customer and consumer centricity helps anticipate product and service requirements. But supply chains are becoming more extended and complex with a consequent increase in risk and the need for resilience. There are multiple data sources making it difficult to manage and measure end-to-end processes and metrics. Aligning priorities through integrated planning remains pivotal but there is an explosion of data available that needs to be incorporated and the value extracted to understand how supply-demand issues impact profit and revenue targets.

Organisations are looking to enable better and more consistent decision-making across complex processes with diverse systems and data. Many are leveraging business intelligence (BI) platforms to give them the capability to make decisions across the organisation, including environments where mobility and access to decision-critical information on the go is crucial. Putting the information in the hands of the people on the front line – those managing supply chain processes – is key to enabling decision making at the point of decision. But this requires synchronising an enormous amount of data that comes from many systems and sources in a way that it can be easily consumed by people who need to act on the insights.

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Visibility Is Key when Driving Supply Chain Performance

At its heart, supply chain management requires a balancing of operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and quality. Managing the true cost to serve for each and every order is the aspiration to allow better negotiation and value creation across the supply chain. Customer- and consumer-centricity helps anticipate product and service requirements. Supply chains are becoming more extended and complex with a consequent increase in risk and the need for resilience. There are multiple data sources making it difficult to manage and measure end-to-end processes and metrics. Aligning priorities through integrated planning remains pivotal, but there is an explosion of data available that needs to be incorporated and the value extracted to understand how supply and demand issues impact profit and revenue targets.

New technology provides greater supply chain transparency. Strategic supplier engagement continues to be important as a way of reducing costs and mitigating risk. Effective supply chain management can be either a compelling competitive differentiator or, conversely, a source of risk, cost and poor customer service.

Organizations are looking to enable better and more consistent decision-making across complex processes with diverse systems and data. Many are leveraging business intelligence (BI) platforms to give them the capability to make decisions across the organization, including environments in which mobility and access to decision-critical information on the go is crucial. Putting the information in the hands of the people on the front line—those managing supply chain processes—is key to enabling decision-making at the point of decision. But this requires synchronizing an enormous amount of data that comes from many systems and sources in a way that it can be easily consumed by people who need to act on the insights.

Read more at Visibility Is Key when Driving Supply Chain Performance

What do you think is important in Supply Chain Performance Management? Share your opinions with us in the comment box.

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