The purpose of bringing new technology into your supply chain is to make your processes simpler while engineering out duplication. In many respects, this has less to do with the technology itself and more to do with the convergence of multiple systems.
Like an orchestra without a conductor, you may have many different systems and processes playing simultaneously, some of them proprietary and not designed to easily share data with each other; and what’s lacking is an approach that will get them all working together. In an ideal world, you should be aiming to bring together your enterprise resource management system, sales forecasts, manufacturing resource planning systems and financial systems, as well as systems owned by customers, partners and suppliers.
The goal is to achieve a seamless process by finding the technology that will both reduce costs and minimise the inherent risks of the supply chain while increasing customer satisfaction and improving efficiency. It might seem like an impossible challenge, particularly if you’re wedded to legacy systems through necessity, but at the very least you should consider leveraging existing systems.
Here are some of the technologies you could be utilising to make the most of information – the key resource for any organisation.
1. ‘Track and trace’ solutions
Are you monitoring every stage of the inventory process? By using track and trace to tackle the issue of supply-chain visibility, you can follow each unique purchase order number, container number(s) and item counts, weight, status, delivery date and more. Integrating all this information with your accounting systems means that your inventories will always be up to date, no matter what stage they’re at, giving you a clear picture in real time.
Of course, track and trace is nothing new – systems have been in use for the last couple of decades. So, if you don’t already have end-to-end process visibility – why not? Traceability will improve your supply chain and reduce costs by avoiding the need for firefighting, while improving the customer experience thanks to the use of data to underpin compliance and sustainability, and enhancing customer service through real-time updates.
2. Supplier portal
A SAP-certified supplier portal can simplify your supply chain by bringing purchase order management, quotation requests, demand forecasting, quality notifications and supplier KPI visibility within a single platform, maintaining SAP as the single stack.
A portal will simplify your supply chain, increase efficiency and reduce cost, as well as making life easier for your suppliers by simplifying interactions with you and your purchasing team. With all previous tasks located within a single portal, the time spent by internal teams on administrative tasks can be significantly reduced, while supplier collaboration is improved.
Features can include, but aren’t limited to:
- View open orders and historical data
- View alerts and notifications by text and email
- Manage scheduling agreements
- Access product detail
- Manage ECNs
- ASN administration and control
- Contract visibility
- Access to financial information
Bringing supply chain data into a portal can have a huge impact as you seek to unify all of your transactions’ many touchpoints. You can read more about SAP supplier portals here.
3. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software
When you’re managing multiple software platforms, how can you break down the walls between software applications? Replacing legacy software or integrating ERP apps by introducing an ERP system can give your supply chain a fundamental boost. ERP software will bring your business’s core processes into a single system – combining everything from procurement and supply chain to services, manufacturing, finance and HR.
Thanks to the intelligence, visibility and analytics offered by an ERP system, it can provide real-time assessments of future business performance to assist you with managing procurement efficiently. The instant visibility provided gives you the ability to make live data-driven decisions using the flow of real-time information across the business to establish and change supply chain limits.
An ERP system will also make it easier for you to assess suppliers, assisting you with continual monitoring and giving you a head start when it comes to selecting suppliers and negotiating new contracts. Following this through to a logical conclusion, a supplier portal that sits within your ERP stack will give you everything you need to get the best out of your suppliers.
4. The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) – whereby computing devices embedded in everyday objects enable them to send and receive data – has been a game changer for track and trace, providing real-time visibility of a product’s progress from manufacture to delivery. Thanks to IoT technology, tracking your supply chain is easier, far quicker and it’s also much easier to catch any issues early. But the applications of the IoT don’t stop there for the supply chain.
While connecting already digital devices is a relatively straightforward task, it’s the non-digital equipment that you may now need to consider. It’s estimated that non-native digital devices in the IoT could outstrip digital devices two-fold within the next couple of years. That means connecting machinery, vehicles, mechanical devices, gauges, sensors and so on.
How can you gain end-to-end insights across your processes? In practical terms, products and pallets can be given RFID tags, sensors and counters can provide data from machines and assembly lines and machines can be activated with microchips. It’s all about creating actionable data that can inform your supply chain activity. You can read more about the impact of the IoT on supply chain here with Forbes’ predictions.
Once you start using technology to bring your systems together, you can look forward to reduced warehousing costs, better inventory management and quicker shipping and delivery, not to mention happier customers.