Even before the early months of 2020, we were already living in an unprecedented time. The shift in market power from the seller to consumer had firmly taken hold. Consumer fulfillment was no longer just a “retail” issue, as industry lines were being blurred and many product suppliers were driving direct-to-customer channels. Traditional retail was already focused on creating a seamless consumer experience across all aspects of the fulfillment process.
But the sudden emergence of COVID-19 ― and its continuing implications ― have added a new and extraordinary level of industry pressure that is reverberating across the entire customer chain.
What are the practical implications of this pressure? Taking a second to personalize this, I have traditionally operated in a mode where online shopping informed my purchasing decision ― but, given that I live within a short distance of a wide array of retail locations, I would typically indulge in a jaunt outside for a real in-store buying experience. In today’s reality, however, I find myself resistant to venturing outside. Instead, I have fully embraced the “me centric” mode of retail engagement. I am certainly not alone in this behavioral change. And the broad impact of this type of insular shopping behavior magnifies the need for all sellers ― not just traditional retailers ― to pay closer attention to their fulfillment chains.
Concurrently, supply chain technology innovation continues not only unabated, but at an accelerated rate. The availability of disparate data and highly scalable ingestion engines, the advent of performant and elastic public clouds, the wider adoption of open application program interfaces (APIs), and the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques are all creating new ways to solve problems and create resilient supply chains. In addition, we are seeing the emergence of many start-ups, app-centric solutions that provide on-point offerings, augmenting existing market capabilities.
So where does that leave us? On one hand, we are living in unprecedented circumstances that require new levels of resiliency, responsiveness and creativity. On the other hand, we have the continued acceleration of technological advancement and pop-up innovation, which allows the consideration of net new value-based use cases. How do we bring these concepts together to drive the appropriate level of creative response?
My contention is that, as logistics practitioners, we must change our mindset to one that I like to call “unified logistics.” This new mindset requires three significant changes in behavior:
- Thinking about logistics holistically
- Leveraging visibility to unify processes
- Embracing an open technology platform
While these concepts will help us adopt our planning practices for the post-COVID reality, it will not be easy to fully implement these behavioral changes across the logistics functions. The following is a discussion of some of the challenges we face as we adopt this new mindset.
The Need to Think Holistically
From a very young age, we are taught to break complex problems down into simpler components. The world of supply chain is no different. As logistics practitioners, we have all “grown up” with a set of accepted disciplines like forecasting, replenishment, allocation, storage and shipping ― and we apply problem-solving techniques and technology solutions to improve the efficiency of each distinct area. This is not a bad thing and, in fact, our level of focus on these areas has yielded an incredible advancement of functional capabilities.
The challenge that has emerged over time, however, is that these functional areas, both culturally and technologically, have become siloed. For example, anyone who has worked in logistics knows painfully well that, while warehouse and transportation operations have come a long way in terms of delivered productivity, they sometimes have conflicting objectives that cause overall network inefficiency.
In an environment that now demands increasing levels of resiliency, silos just do not work ― and, in fact they only magnify the stresses on today’s supply chains. While breaking down silos is not a new concept, it is not a simple ask.
The first step is thinking about the supply chain as not just a holistic entity, but as one entirely centered on the consumer. It does not matter where we sit in the value chain. Whether we are retailers, manufacturers or logistics providers, we all need to put our collective energy toward serving the individual consumer. Having that mindset means paying attention to not only distinct functions and how they act as process subcomponents, but also to how these functions interrelate with one another as part of a holistic use case. Defining these use cases with an eye toward the core objective of customer centricity allows us to look past our functional biases and concentrate on the unified goal of serving the consumer.
Unifying Processes via Increased Visibility
So great, we have a holistic view and we are focused on defining use cases centered on the customer. Now what? We still have all these supply chain processes and technology solutions that are seemingly disconnected. This is where visibility comes in.
By “visibility,” I do not just mean reports or alerts. And I certainly do not mean a collection of siloed data. Today’s supply chain reality demands that we think of visibility as gaining a holistic (continuing the theme) view of the entire supply chain, one that interconnects the disparate concepts of orders, inventory and transportation. This broad, centralized view allows us to not only understand when or where a disruption may occur but, more important, understand the impact of that disruption and how to best remediate it. We need to balance short-term functional gains with longer-term strategic issues that affect the whole supply chain, as well as overall service and profitability goals. At the risk of repetition, this means having a truly holistic or unified view. By taking that perspective, we can consequently think about disruption resolution from a business-wide, not just a functional, perspective.
Embracing an Open Technology Environment
This brings us to the last behavioral change needed to adopt a unified logistics mindset: embracing the notion of openness and the power of the application-driven technology ecosystem.
Our industry’s focus on functional excellence has driven an insular, siloed approach to planning and execution. But it has also painted us into a corner technologically, with ever-larger and more complex solutions that are difficult to manage and upgrade. This is where we need to take a page out of our daily lives as consumers.
In a world where our phones have become the hub of our daily lives, we seem to take for granted the technology characteristics that have made that a reality. One of the most critical characteristics is the notion of the application ecosystem. Think about the last app you downloaded, then think about the number of related apps it is already connected to. You are now connected to a technology ecosystem, and you did not have to lift a finger other than providing an authorization.
These seemingly unrelated apps now form a full set of capabilities ― a definable, personal use case ― with assumed connectivity and easy upgrades. A perfect example is the fitness tracking app of your choice. While you may start with one app download, you are suddenly connected on a range of physical devices ― scales, pedals, GPS ― as well as having access to diet trackers, exercise diaries and social media sites related to fitness.
Now consider the implications of applying that approach to the world of unified logistics. Instead of owning and managing a collection of independent applications that solve separate logistics problems, you would have an open platform. Purpose-driven applications like control towers, transportation software, warehouse solutions and carrier trackers would now be interconnected with each other via a set of open APIs ― and able to solve a collection of cross-functional, customer-centric use cases. While this capability might sound out of reach, it is increasingly achievable today, thanks to ongoing technology advancements.
An Unprecedented Approach, for Unprecedented Times
There is no doubt that we are living through an unimaginable circumstance. But history has shown us that times such as these create a valuable opportunity for us to take a step back and look at the world through a new lens.
Success in a post-pandemic business landscape requires that we truly shed the shackles of our traditional siloed thinking and embrace a holistic, customer-centric view of our supply chains. We need to take command and control of our product flow through all supply and fulfillment channels, breaking down functional walls that impede our larger view. And, finally, we need to embrace the rapidly expanding technology ecosystem to fully leverage the benefits of an open platform for ongoing logistics innovation. Unified logistics represents an unprecedented mindset that is imperative for these unprecedented times. For additional knowledge visit Luminate Logistics.
Fabrizio (Fab) Brasca is group vice president (GVP), global solutions at Blue Yonder. In this role, he leads his organization to drive thought leadership, go-to-market strategy and solution execution excellence for Blue Yonder’s 4,000+ customer base. Additionally, his organization works closely with customers to understand requirements, drive best practices and adoption of Blue Yonder solutions across the globe.
Previously, he was VP of solution strategy, supply chain execution, responsible for developing innovative strategies across all industry verticals, strengthening executive-level relationships with JDA’s key customers and prospects and advising companies on best practices to become more profitable. Fab joined Blue Yonder as part of the i2 Technologies acquisition in January 2010 after spending more than 10 years at i2 serving in transportation-focused senior management positions. In these roles, he helped lead i2’s global transportation practice including marketing, presales, roadmap development and services functions.
He holds an Honours Bachelor of Mathematics, with a specialization in business and information systems from the University of Waterloo in Canada.