Solving Tough Challenges in Supply Chains with Digital Tech

As supply chain, material handling and distribution centers face mounting challenges in the e-commerce/omnichannel world, adaptable digital technology is helping to make their lives easier.

Facing the demands of e-commerce fulfillment, faster delivery times, omnichannel distribution, and constantly changing customer preferences, companies are looking for technology that is agile and adaptable to help solve their toughest supply chain, warehousing, and distribution challenges. Existing systems that don’t “talk” to one another, and solutions that are single-use, or hard-wired devices that are reaching end-of-life (EOL) only exacerbate the problem.

As a result, companies have embraced more flexible, adaptable solutions that enable the modern-day warehouse and distribution center (DC). More and more of my colleagues and I hear this from our conversations with customers. As Brett Whitaker, a senior manager in the Mobility Presales Engineering Department for Panasonic TOUGHBOOK recently relayed to me, “A lot of companies are using custom-built applications on technology platforms that are no longer viable, have operating systems that are end-of-life, and applications that were built specifically for those operating systems. This is causing a lot of consternation in the warehouse industry right now.”

That concern is warranted. When a device reaches end-of-life it experiences frequent breakdowns, and companies can’t make repairs in a timely manner. Similarly, manufacturers no longer support the operating systems and applications for the device.

We are also hearing that the persistent U.S. labor shortage adds to those headaches. “There’s a lot of pressure right now in terms of manpower and finding people with the skillsets to handle supply chain and warehousing jobs,” explains Brian Phelps, Senior Manager, Solutions Consulting & Support at Panasonic. “Having technology that’s easy for new workers to just pick up and start using is becoming an imperative for companies.”

Digital transformation, NOT digital disruption

There is a lot of hype and talk in the industry right now about companies deploying new advanced technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. The reality is that many organizations are in the early stages of using these technologies. In fact, many of them are still using manual systems with a dose of technology.

The problem is that e-commerce, omnichannel fulfillment, and the labor shortage are forcing all retailers, manufacturers, and distributors to rethink their business models and find ways to meet customers’ needs while also controlling costs. That’s why at Panasonic, we’re focused on helping companies digitally transform with a minimal amount of disruption to ongoing business operations.

To do this, Panasonic offers process review, hardware, software consultation, and Rapid Application Development services. With an ecosystem of products and services focused on improving worker productivity—including voice picking, e-proof of delivery, and multi-use mobile devices—Panasonic helps companies overcome their most pressing supply chain and warehousing problems with minimal business disruption.

Digital transformation in action

Recently, one midsized food distribution firm using Windows CE-driven devices found itself saddled with an operating system at end-of-life and was struggling to keep its delivery fleet and drivers on the road and equipped with working mobile devices. After listening and learning how their deliveries work, we demonstrated the Panasonic Rapid Application development platform to rebuild their workflows and replicate the screens to operate on a new operating system. The platform also enables quick workflow updates and additions, including new OS releases or device refreshes. The company has since rolled out the new mobile application and rugged handheld tablets to the delivery drivers running on the Android operating system and Panasonic TOUGHBOOK N1 handheld tablets.

Of course, the big question is, how did the rollout go?

As Brett explained, “The rollout to their drivers was pretty much a breeze – the drivers simply had to learn to use two new buttons before driving off.  The deployment of 95 devices was completed in less than two weeks.”

For the same customer—from our discovery—we uncovered some warehouse picking inefficiencies.  The next step is working with them on updating the picking workflows, incorporating a voice picking solution.

This is just one example of how the Panasonic consulting team works to provide solutions that solve customers’ pain points across the business, and not just to one-off problems. This happens because, in most cases, when we get in there and really look at the bones of an operation, there are always additional opportunities to help.

“Voice of the customer”

At Panasonic, we refer to this as listening to the “Voice of the Customer.”   Our entire team, from product engineering, to field engineering to account managers and consultants takes part in listening to the customer first and often.  Our goal is to solve their most pressing pain points and dig deeper to find hidden problems that may be preventing companies from achieving their organizational goals. By combining the right combination of listening, technology and software with their workflow processes, we help our customers through the rigors of digital transformation while at the same time minimizing the disruption to their ongoing operations.