by Jeff Rauscher, Redwood Software, Inc.
The retail landscape is continuously changing. With a renewed focus on customer experience, companies like Amazon entice customers with expanding same-day delivery. Online concepts like the Dollar Shave Club1 highlight customer service and value with a simple concept. All of these innovators in retail depend on a fast, accurate and efficient supply chain to support their innovative approaches. According to Gartner's Supply Chain Top 25 for 20142:
The very best of them present simple, elegant solutions to their customers, driven by conscious supply chain orchestration behind the curtain. Their center-led cultures enable consistently high quality customer experiences, tailored where important, to local tastes.
By focusing on supply chain enabled growth from a high return on assets (ROA), high rates of inventory turnover and measurable revenue growth, the supply chain is an undeniable force behind retail success. Still, many retailers struggle to maintain an impeccable customer experience while supporting watertight, efficient supply chain that extends around the world and across a variety of channels.
So, how do the "Top 25" do it? They've overcome the challenge of siloed processes and visibility by applying connected, automated processes across their supply chains. Using an automation platform, they reduce complexity and standardize disconnected process steps to deliver products and services wherever and whenever customers demand them. The best automation platforms manage task completion, automatic remediation, and address the need to run repeatable processes that may currently be purely manual activities. They cross business and technological silos and even bring partners right into the process itself.
The objective is to automate as much as possible to reduce the risk of error and establish full transparency across the entire supply chain. Most organizations start with a few, small steps and then build up to more complex activities. Here are some examples of how simple changes can support fast, measurable returns.
Standardize and Connect
A large European distribution company with more than 71,000 different items in stock worked to connect and coordinate warehouse management across its entire organization. The company made sure that every warehouse maintained consistent inventory and tracked demand automatically and completely. As a result, the company improved its forecasting accuracy and its ROA while it dramatically increased speed and accuracy of delivery for its customers.
Make the Most of Information
A Fortune 500 industrial supply company maintains a catalogue of almost 1 million products. It provides most of them through fast, accurate coordination between its in-house ordering system and hundreds of partner suppliers – not through its own warehouses. The company took on an enterprise-wide strategy to connect and standardize all of its in-house data, automating as many repeatable processes as possible so that orders are processed accurately and quickly around the clock. They also worked with their partner ecosystem to standardize how data was sent out of their organization for fulfillment and back in for transactional records. Simply by connecting steps in the process with technology and tools, this company increased its speed and accuracy six times over.
In both examples, companies bridged silos of process and information with an eye for exactly what their customers demanded. Today, it's the level of coordination that takes place in the back office, warehouse or in data exchanges between partners that will determine future supply chain leaders. It's an important perspective for any retailer to take.
 The Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 for 2014 by Stan Aronow, Debra Hoffman, Michael Burkett, Kimberly Niles and Jim Romano from Gartner Research, May 21, 2014.
Jeff Rauscher, Director of Solutions Design for Redwood Software, has more than 31 years of diversified MIS/IT experience working with a wide variety of technologies including SAP, HP, IBM, and many others. Rauscher has worked in operations management, data center relocation, hardware planning, installation and de-installation, production control management, quality assurance, and customer support.
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