I’ve just returned from attending and participating in several supply chain conferences around the country. There’s a palpable excitement in our industry about the sweeping changes fundamentally altering supply chain operations. The drivers of these changes, such as e-commerce and omni-channel markets, are resulting in new and greater investments in the supply chain technology. Indeed, a recent study from ARC Advisory Group reports that, thanks to small, multi-line order requirements, retailers are increasingly investing in warehouse automation and control systems. Everywhere you look, companies are working with new technologies and strategies to modernize their supply chains and improve how they serve their customers.
As the supply chain continues to evolve and companies are faced with a number of technology solutions, they will approach those investments with a heightened awareness of whether the investment truly improves the bottom line. If you’re a company looking to invest in your supply chain but aren’t sure where to start, it’s helpful to know where others have focused their efforts. Let’s take a look at a few of the high-priority areas in which I’ve seen companies focus their investments.
User-friendly, savvy mobile technology
The prevalence of mobile technology in everyday life is setting new expectations for how technology is used in the warehouse, and workers expect experiences that are as familiar and easy as their smartphone or tablet.
Employees’ tech-savviness and confidence are in part driving the growth of mobile devices in the warehouse, as are the benefits of their use: Managers can leverage and share data in real-time, no matter where they are on the warehouse floor; voice-picking technologies increase productivity by allowing employees to work hands-free and eliminate the writing or keying data; and cutting-edge smart glasses visually communicate tasks and speed up picking times. Investments in mobile technologies are a key area in which vendors are prioritizing R&D and where companies are looking for a strong return on investment.
Intelligent, profitable order fulfillment
Order fulfillment technology, whether it’s an order management system, in-store order fulfillment solution or something else, has been one of the hottest topics this year as businesses – especially retailers – scramble to implement tools that can help them manage their multi-channel orders while remaining efficient and profitable.
For brick-and-mortar stores that are also fulfilling e-commerce orders, investments in supply chain technology can help bridge an order across channels. Companies with stores that are increasingly functioning as a warehouse are investing in technology that makes efficient use of both store space and time, as well as increases inventory visibility. Order fulfillment technology can help companies make smarter, more informed business decisions about how and where an order is fulfilled, streamline the fulfillment process and deliver a strong return on investment.
Flexible, efficient order packaging
Many companies are shipping increasingly smaller orders, and so smaller delivery fleets, parcel shipping solutions and localized delivery strategies are getting a harder look when companies decide where to invest in their supply chain. Those investments that improve efficiencies can help companies with shrinking order sizes continue to serve customers profitably.
For instance, container solutions maximize how an order is packaged. Choosing the right carton size and achieving optimal item arrangement can save a lot of time and money, and cut down on the number of products returned because of damage during shipping. Container solutions can help organize container contents based on specific packing and stacking rules, and even allow workers to pick directly to a shipping container. By directing optimal product placement in the containers, investing in a solution like this is helping companies ship fewer packages, cut costs and better maximize transportation assets.
Adapting to change
According to a recent survey by ARC Advisory Group and DC Velocity on omni-channel distribution trends, the top performing company respondents were also those that have made the greatest investment in supply chain software and technology. And while it’s easy to get excited about all of the changes happening in our industry, it can be difficult to determine where exactly to prioritize your investments. Mobile technology, order fulfillment and order packaging are some of the key areas that can quickly drive better efficiency and productivity, no matter the changes that lie ahead.
Chuck Fuerst is the director of product strategy at HighJump. He has more than 15 years of experience in the technology market, working for supply chain and ERP software companies to deliver innovative solutions. Chuck is responsible for monitoring supply chain industry and technology trends and identifying ways to enhance the value of products for HighJump’s customers. He holds a Bachelor degree in Marketing Management and Innovation from Concordia University.