What should warehouse managers know about supply chain digitalisation?
The Digital Supply Chain is expected to revolutionise supply chain operations by applying Industry 4.0 innovations - such as Internet of Things, advanced robotics, analytics, and big data - to achieve further efficiencies. What are the technologies currently available to support supply chain digitalisation?
Key technologies in supply chain digitalisation
At the organisational level, digital transformation involves using analytics, AI, robotics and the Internet of Things to integrate otherwise disparate systems, collect and process information more efficiently and share it to support better decision making. The key technologies involved are those that help to connect and integrate existing technologies in use, which streamline transactional activities.
Integration with ERP systems, WMS, sales and operations planning plus demand forecasting for example, all enable companies to more effectively support supply chain operations. By having the ability to extend this with digitalisation and share data combined from multiple sources, companies can access real time analytics. This means they can anticipate or prevent problems more easily and make better operational decisions. Machine learning systems can support operational management with decision making, for example, suggesting order processing schedules to reflect anticipated demand. Automation systems enable workloads to be better streamlined and allow management to focus less on routine fire-fighting and spend more time on more valuable strategic activities.
Important first steps in implementing supply chain digitalisation
All too often, companies think that introducing technology will solve their problems and make them more efficient, but when they implement, they fail to see the expected returns. This is typically because fundamental supply chain processes needed revamping in the first place. Before starting a digital supply chain technology project, companies need to have conducted a full operational review, to examine whether their processes need changing or whether existing datasets need to be integrated. The stages involved during the review are the same as in any other business transformation project. Firstly, a long term vision of the ideal scenario needs to be established and then the company should then work backwards to assess the organisation’s current state. The resulting road map should outline how to get to the end result, plus what changes and investments are needed, including resources, talent and technology.
In the next few years, we are expecting supply chain visibility to become mainstream as mature Internet of Things and big data analytics solutions become more viable. Working with a technology partner that has expert integration skills and a deep understanding of how warehouse operations impact all stakeholders is essential as companies will likely be looking to further segment stakeholders according to their value to the business.