People Will Keep The Lights On- Warehouse Management of Tomorrow

Robots, algorithms, automated answering machines, self driving cars and unmanned drones….Are organizations moving closer to the lights out supply chain? Not. Most organizations have learned that keeping a close pulse on their customer’s market trends and utilizing this valuable information to make supply chain decisions can improve the brand growth and ROI. There are certainly technology solutions aiming for a lights out outcome, and market leaders, like Amazon, increasingly investing in automation and testing new solutions; however even from Amazon the prospect of a lights out fulfillment network in decades away.

Supply chain is the new competitive weapon of the business. As consumer closely scrutinize every business decision of their favorite brands, the supply chain ability to be accurate, timely and deliver goods as promised has become more important than ever. Progressive organizations are leveraging their supply chain and creating competitive advantage by building stronger partnerships with their main suppliers, diving deep into last mile delivery solutions, and incorporating the voice of the customer in forecasting and supply planning.

1.      Build Strong Partnerships with Key Suppliers

Companies cannot guarantee the integrity of their supply chain or quality of their product being far removed from sourcing and manufacturing processes. The growing expectation of accountability from consumers is pushing companies to become more engaged within their supply chain, build closer relationships with original equipment manufacturers and raw materials providers. Millennials prefer to make procurement deals directly with manufacturers- cutting out distributors. This process helps ensure tight quality controls, improve direct from factory cost savings; it also impacts margins and health of distributors who have thrived in this space. A research study conducted by UPS shows that millennials prefer researching companies online using tech channels that may be less familiar to older buyers. This trend has seen a 20% increase in the past two years and is expected to continue growing over the next 3-5 years, potentially eliminating a percentage of middle market distributors.

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As companies shape stronger partnerships in their supply chain and become more informed about their provider’s operations, new opportunities for data sharing, process improvement and collective costs savings will emerge. Currently, supply chain professionals struggle with the types and integrity of data available within and outside of the enterprise. Lack of accurate data sharing and collaborative analysis causes demand forecasting, supply and inventory bullwhip problems.  Accurately predicting and communicating demand trends across the entire supply chain will help businesses negotiate year-over-year price reductions in the order of 3%-5%. These are a direct result of setting shared goals with suppliers’ brands trust over time.

Successful organizations need to be connected to their partners to ensure real time sensing of risk, changes in demand, or updates to orders. In supply chain, as in business at large, success is 100% dependent on strong partnerships, the sustained consolidation of the marine shipping industry over the past five years is a clear indication that together we are stronger.  Will we start to notice more vertical integration of organizations across varying industries?

2.      Dive Deep into The Last Mile

This is the #1 opportunity for the supply chain to interact with the customer, and oftentimes one of the most impactful times in the customer delight process of any purchase. The last mile offers unique opportunities for optimization, and cost savings with a focus on guaranteeing customer happiness and brand loyalty. Many traditional, and online only retailers focus on improving the last mile service with real time order updates, which include reverse logistics, and sometimes even. Consumers expect products to arrive on time and not damaged, with continuous visibility into the delivery status. Some organizations, such as Amazon have gone so far as to ensure the package is pleasant for the consumer to open, while maintaining packaging costs low with their SIOC (ship in own container) program.

Over the past few years, as ecommerce growth has increased, leading companies invested pointedly into research and development for autonomous vehicles to help last mile delivery processes. Other service providers are expanding partnerships outside of the traditional shipping industry to continue improving services and transit times to consumes. For example, FedEx is increasing its partnership with Dollar General (8,000 locations) and Walmart (500 locations); the company is also investing in additional store fronts to continue servicing their most important customer sector, ecommerce SMBs. According to FedEx CMO “the FedEx Office retail locations bring in some of our most profitable small and medium business because [of] the experience they get when they are shipping…and they want the peace of mind of proper packaging.” This illustrates an understanding FedEx of just how important success in the last mile is for all involved.

Last mile delivery is most impactful for the food industry, there are numerous opportunities to learn from innovations in this space. Whether prepared or online grocery, organizations providing these services to consumers must be even more vigilant of last mile services.

3.      Listen to the Voice of the Customer

Traditional supply chain solutions were designed to solve problems within the walls of the organization. Globalization forces all businesses, including SMLBs to think globally. Most realize that success with continued growth fully depends on outside factors, some out of our immediate control but some which can be influenced. Analyzing existing or historical data only teams do not get full visibility of their customer trends. This approach delivers sub-optimal supply and demand forecasting models and leads to making decisions on based fragmented information.

Supply chain teams require real time point of sale data, consumer online sentiment, alongside partner driven forecast to assemble the monthly demand and supply planning. To successfully utilize the information organizations must diagnose customer behavior to prescribe the right market segmentation. Customers are getting closer to the supply chain- this is especially noticeable for higher end brands and items, where customers have immediate and direct impact on the well being of the organization, but this is increasingly truer even in highly commoditized consumer goods organizations.

Tracking the brand, the consumers who interact with it, and translating this data into intelligent information that can help drive precise winning decisions. Supply chain needs to work with the data and truly know the customer. Who drives the business? E-commerce companies such as Amazon have huge amounts of customer data that can be used to target specific people and convince them to buy certain things. With mobile apps and loyalty programs, chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks are attempting to similarly track customers, adjusting options to convince them to spend more. Supply chain teams need to be in the know of all these push/ pull strategies and collaborate cross-functionally to truly understand consumer trends.

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So, are we heading towards an era of lights-out supply chain management? No! Supply chains, as most consumer dependent businesses, rely on people to run them successfully. People to build the right supplier partnerships, people who can strengthen the connection between a brand and customer when the product is delivered, and people who can reach into the hearts of consumers and understand what drives them.  Lights Out? People in the Supply Chain of Tomorrow.

This article first appeared on https://www.letstalksupplychain.com/blog/- make sure to visit Let’s Talk Supply Chain website for the latest #supplychain discussions, videos, articles and podcasts.

The SC – Supply Chain TV

I joined Sarah Barnes-Humphrey, Audrey Ross and Leah Goold-Haws to debate the hot topics in supply chain including but not limited to telnet acquisition, the “New NAFTA”, tariffs at large and how these impact the consumers. Check out the episode at the link below and leave your comments on the YouTube Channel.

ePlanning: Leverage the Logistics Network for Competitive Advantage in eCommerce

IMG_0704Check out my presentation at the SCOPE Supply Chain Summit: SCOPE Atlanta 2019_ ePlanning Presentation Slides

 

 

 

 

Takeaways:

Key Actions for an Optimal Distribution Network:
1. Design an Agile Network with Optimal Inventory Distribution
2. Create End-to-End Visibility Connectivity
3. Pivot to Demand Driven Forecasting and Planning

Supply Chain Leading Strategic Opportunities for Continuous Growth:
• eCommerce Evolution
• Price Control
• Drop Ship Opportunities- Retail Strategic Partner
• Own the Amazon Marketplace- Seller Fulfilled Prime
• International Growth
• Forecast & Revenue Security
• Robust Reverse Logistics
• Best Customer Service
• Offer Innovative Solutions

 

When a customer has opted into the brand, there’s no mystery
about what they want- retention is key!

 

Logistics and Supply Chain E-Planning: Last Mile Delivery Strategy

Last mile delivery services can mean different things to organizations depending on the key revenue driving marketplaces. In some organizations last mile can be US domestic only, for some it could expand across all of Americas and others it can cover a global marketplace. This article focuses on steps organizations can take to resolve last mile delivery challenges in North America with current service providers constantly competing and changing their service levels.

  1. How To Manage Conflicting Priorities For Different Business Units?

 Business units within organizations have metrics tied to either cost or revenue, while all teams are working towards the company’s common goal. Generally, for most retailers, and consumer goods companies these common goals revolve around providing customers with the best service, while growing the company’s market share at the lowest cost. As such, when e-commerce expansion the impact of last mile delivery costs become significant in strategic decisions such as: inventory optimization at different location and site optimization through a well-developed distribution and logistics network. Supply chain leaders must really understand where their inventory is located and how this empowers the business to interact better with customers. Offering ground delivery services with 5 business days in transit is not optima- the customer is waiting longer for the product and the company is paying more for ground or expedited delivery.

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These factors can meaningfully impact the costs of last mile delivery and the service levels delivered to end consumers- both of which are important attributes.1. How Do

2. Last Mile Delivery Costs Affect Sales And Growth?

 When a business has a clear consumer- centric strategy around increasing its e-commerce footprint, the first question that needs to be clarified is around shipping costs. Will these be covered by the business or passed on to the customer?

According to leading e-commerce fulfillment service Flexe, shipping fees are the number 1 reason for cart abandonment in the US.

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Some questions to ask prior to forming a strategy include: will free shipping apply to all orders, all zip codes, even international? Is there an order minimum- will this encourage customers to add more items to their cart, or will it cause more cart abandonment? Is the shipping service level the determining factor for consumer shipping costs?

From the UPS “2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper” report:

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  • 74% of consumers said options for free shipping were the most important part of checking out online
  • 94% of shoppers have taken action to qualify for free shipping

 

 

 

3. Supply Chain Factors To Consider For A New Strategy?

There are numerous factors to consider when reviewing the company’s logistics network and last mile delivery, cost should not be the only input. Is the company’s goal to lower the time in transit to the end consumer? If so- then the best solution for the logistics network might be a multi-node location which both optimizes last mile delivery costs and time in transit, however this does not come without challenges on the inbound side. Depending on where the company’s products are manufactures, assembled and where they enter the American market some of the below considerations are of utmost importance:

  1. Production consolidation
  2. Order frequency
  3. Inbound/ Outbound transportation costs
  4. Risk of damage
  5. Number of touches and varying labor costs
  6. Holding costs
  7. Customer service

Improving last mile delivery metrics is a balancing act with competing goals across internal business units. A deep data dive into marketplace information and a stable logistics partner are crucial to successful change. The below diagram was presented by Expeditors Logistics and I have always found it to be a very useful visual for this ongoing balance:

44. Long Term Vision

Understand where the company’s current consumer base and forecast for future growth. Given current market trends and the impact of e-commerce organizations should consider supply chain planning- location and inventory optimization- as e-planning and account for all available and real time inputs such as click, views, product reviews to help predict future demand and trends. Leaders in future markets will be the companies who can see, interpret, and act on data the most efficiently on a global scale.

Supply chain and operations changes are costly, risky and take a long time to implement. Organizations must understand and have a clear vision for future marketplace development prior to adjusting for last mile delivery improvements and supply chain flexibility.

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Using current sales data and partnering with a leading service provider who can assist in conducting a thorough supply chain gravity analysis can help ensure that the company’s long term operational strategy will support the organization’s growth and expansion goals.

5. Immediate actions

Key drivers of success are data and technology. Organizations might supply a different product to consumers but at the core of success lies the ability to gather all pertinent data and translate the story it is telling. First and foremost, organizations should invest in the right technology to get as close to the information generated by end consumers as possible, then consider the above outlined goals.

 

 

ERP Benefits for SMB Supply Chains

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Excel spreadsheets, emails, FTP sites, Quickbooks, Salesforce, SharePoint, PDFs back to Excel. Does that sound like the operations process in your business or department?

The use of incongruent systems to store and manage information is the norm for more that 60% of small and medium size businesses (SMBs) in the United States. For these types of businesses an enterprise resource management system (ERP) implementation can appear cumbersome, costly, and stressful on the workforce. However, to maintain a competitive advantage in today’s volatile markets, organizations must invest in data management systems with robust analytics capabilities and improved supply chain visibility. Supply chains are exposed to a variety of risks; organizations must be able to anticipate, quantify, and prepare for the effects of foreign actors on their business. Utilizing integrated business solutions, leading with ERP software, is a business best practice and a necessity for continued successful operations in a global economy. ERP software organizations understand these challenges and numerous solutions exist to support a lean implementation project.

Prior to starting an ERP project companies must conduct a thorough analysis of the foreseen financial and human capital costs, and the software needs of the business. Upon deciding that an ERP system will support the future growth of the business SMBs aspiring to have a successful implementation must focus on the following items:

  1. Appoint an ERP Project Champion

Leadership is key to a successful implementation. Prior to launching an ERP project, organizations should look inward to their workforce and find an individual to champion the project. Having a project champion who is able to create a link between the organization and an ERP consultant can significantly streamline the project and reduce the overall implementation costs. This person is responsible for guiding a business through process transformation, recognizing errors, as well as understanding and mapping all business processes. They will work with internal and external teams on demos and testing, preparing the data prior to being loaded into the system, and training end users.

For most SMBs the project champion is also the project manager, who will hold all responsibility to ensure that implementation is on time and within budget. Project champions should have a good understanding of all business operations and the ability to work cross-functionally with different departments. This person will also become the spokesperson to the CEO and CFO on the project charter, budget, and team readiness. Most importantly the ERP project champion will be the in house post implementation support for the team. According to Panorama Consulting in their study Key Findings From 2015 ERP Reports: more than 52% of companies faced some sort of material operational disruption at the time of go-live, making this a critical role to implementation success.

  1. Find a Transparent ERP Partner

Organizations undergoing an ERP implementation are exposed to risk. A challenging part of an ERP implementation project is finding the right solution for the unique operations of the business. A system that appears to be one-size-fits-all approach is usually not the right way to go for a smaller business. Organizations must focus on their core business practices and find a partner that can support improvements in specific areas. There are numerous ERP solutions available on the market, according to research from Gartner “50% of businesses say that lack of industry standards makes it hard to compare solutions, while 39% feel that vendors are muddying the waters with lack of clarity about cost.” Change is demanding on the workforce and operational disruptions are inevitable, finding the right ERP partner can help leadership understand these risks ahead of time and prepare.

  1. Licensing & Hosting

The backbone of an ERP system is the data storage server that supports smooth operations. Aside from finding the right partner with the appropriate software, the IT department must make decisions on the type of licensing and hosting. ERP systems can be hosted on the cloud or hosted on site. The latter requires: a backend data management system, most common is SQL server, and enough computing power and space on a terminal server. Organizations will also need a strong firewall to protect the information and high quality internal network for client machines to reach the data server. On site hosting is burdensome for the business, as the initial capital investments in the infrastructure are very high and the maintenance costs outweigh the benefits.

Finally, businesses must decide if they require a full ERP cloud system, if their needs are more limited they can seek a software- as-a- service model (SaaS). Cloud and SaaS hosting differ slightly, in that the ERP provider generally hosts the SaaS model on their own infrastructure. This gives the vendor full control over the system, but also all responsibility for upgrades and maintenance. These types of systems also have a different cost structure to the business. The graphs below offer a representation of the various hosting models, showing that for both small and medium size businesses the hosted or cloud solution is the best financial choice.

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  1. Focus on Process Waste

ERP systems are a first step in helping organizations becomes leaner in their operations and supply chain management. During the first phase of the implementation, organizations undergo a vigorous business mapping and analysis process to help all those involved visualize the entire business operations. Lean Six Sigma principles encourage organizations to focus on operations improvements by analyzing processes, discovering where any of the 7 wastes are manifested. To ensure that the project is carried out correctly those involved must agree on key performance indicators, and measure and analyze this data. This is precisely the role of an ERP in small or medium sized business.

For example, if a SMB’s main concern is that order-to-cash time is taking on average 30 days longer than the expected 60 days, the implementation of an ERP system will help streamline the information exchange between internal departments and shorten the time by 50%. Some of the most significant wastes organizations face without a proper ERP system can be tied to extra processing, inventory and motion. These are costly, with direct effects to a company’s financial statements.

  1. Reporting

ERP systems offer new and more complex data analytics capabilities, compared to fragmented systems. While creating the report can sometimes be timely, once the structure exists, running these reports can take a few seconds and offer new visibility into the company’s operations, sales, supply chain and financials. The best way to capitalize on these capabilities is to work closely with each department and understand what information would be most valuable to them, and how this information can improve their processes. This is another place where the project champion holds a unique and important role. This person should be communicating with the department managers, listening to their concerns and delivering the message to the ERP partner, who will most likely produce all of the initial reports. When this is done correctly companies see immediate results in better S&OP planning, customer invoicing, less accounts payable mistakes resulting in late fines and increased customer satisfaction.

Enterprise resource management systems are beneficial to small and medium sized businesses, by streamlining operational and supply chain processes. They offer a centralized location for sales, purchasing, inventory, customer information, AR, AP and GL data, and strong analytics capabilities so SMBs can stay competitive and lean. When choosing an ERP system it is important to understand the core of the business and find partners whose strengths are aligned with the operations. Ask the right questions, have the long-term business goals in mind and assemble the right team.