Top Technologies Retailers Can Harness to Improve Supply Chain Visibility

When you place an order as a consumer, it’s reasonable to expect a shipping notification, an offer to opt in to text alerts with order updates, tracking information, and delivery confirmation. As a retailer, you need to be able to provide all this information to your customers, whose expectations are higher than ever before. In fact, according to a new report from MHI and Deloitte, customer demand on the supply chain is seen as the biggest challenge. So how can retailers keep up? By deploying the technologies that provide critical visibility into the supply chain.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. To help you get on the right track, here are two top innovative technologies currently used by supply chain professionals, and how you can benefit from implementing them.

Cloud Computing and Storage

According to the same report, cloud computing and storage is the most common innovative technology used by supply chain professionals – and adoption is only expected to grow. Not only does it have the highest adoption rate among those surveyed, but 40 percent of respondents recognize cloud computing as having potential to disrupt or create a competitive advantage. In general, cloud computing eases the burden on IT to manage infrastructure, but what other benefits does it provide in supply chain management?

Perhaps the biggest advantage of cloud technology is the enablement of cloud-based mobile apps and their ability to update and capture data from nearly anywhere in real time. In today’s highly competitive and fast changing market, it is imperative to ensure the most current data is available to whoever needs it: supplier, warehouse manager, driver or store associate. The result is that all stakeholders are working with a single source of truth, reducing the margin for error and therefore enhancing customer service. 

Cloud-based software platforms can also provide complete product traceability by connecting internal systems to supply chain partners’ systems. When these systems “talk” to each other, users can track product from the warehouse packaging line to the customer’s doorstep, providing timely fulfillment and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Additionally, cloud storage offers a repository of large amounts of data, which can be analyzed to identify strengths and areas for improvement in the supply chain. This data will provide answers to questions like:

  • What is the average time it takes to fulfill an order?
  • Is the fulfillment cycle time satisfactory to customers?
  • Are we optimally restocking best-selling items?
  • Are we meeting stakeholder requirements?

In summary, by leveraging cloud computing with product data and operational records in a central repository, retailers and suppliers gain insights into supply chain efficiency, which can equate to improved customer satisfaction, minimized risk and greater cost savings. The right technology partner will be able to help you get to this level of awareness into your supply chain operations.

Sensors and IoT

Along with cloud computing, using IoT and smart devices is the next wave to reinvent the supply chain and gain efficiencies – from tracking trucks via GPS-enabled electronic logging devices (ELDs), to monitoring temperatures and environmental conditions of stored or transported goods, to signaling when crops are ready to be harvested. IoT sensors and smart devices can connect nearly every link in the supply chain and collect critical data that can enable better decision making.

In a CIO article, Markus Kückelhaus, vice president for innovation and trend research at DHL, described how IoT has made a huge impact in the business. “The IoT allows us to gather the necessary data to optimize our businesses and identify better practices,” he says. “It is revolutionizing business processes across the entire supply chain and logistics.” According to the article, Germany-based DHL “predicts that IoT has the potential to generate up to 1.77 trillion euros in additional value for the international logistics industry by 2025.”

The MHI study reported that 45 percent of respondents are already using sensors and automatic identification today. The survey also revealed that sensors and IoT are the technologies most expected to be a source of disruption or competitive advantage. So where can IoT and automation help in a retail supply chain?

One example is programming certain actions to trigger signals to your workforce. As your store associates process sales, mobile POS data can send an alert when item sales hit a certain quantity threshold signaling that you need to order more. Another example is using IoT tags on perishable products to signal to store managers when inventory needs to be removed from shelves because of spoilage. Retailers can more proactively manage stock and restocking lead times: no more out of stock situations. Instead, you are optimally controlling inventory levels.

Another use case is tracking items at each stage of a supply chain to ensure traceability. IoT sensors paired with a proof of delivery application can indicate who has custody of product, how long it takes to get from point A to point B, and when it’s delivered and has transferred ownership. With this insight you can provide real-time data to auditors, prove compliance with industry regulations and optimize inventory dwell times.

Retailers today are challenged daily by many forces – increased customer expectations, new competitors and added regulatory compliance. Cloud technology and IoT are technologies that can provide greater supply chain visibility and help eliminate many of these challenges. At NRF 2019, Panasonic will be discussing and showing how we can help retailers implement solutions to enhance supply chain visibility, warehouse operations and customer service.