It’s all about staying relevant in a changing business environment—naturally, logistics and supply chain operations are evolving to meet the trend. The old is giving way to the new; it’s time to check out the top trends shaping the future of supply chain and warehousing.
Cloud, mobile and other digital technologies have already made a big impact in supply chain and warehousing operations. Digital technologies, powered by mobile devices, accelerate the supply chain, make it more efficient and accurate and reduce costs. For instance, bar codes scanned with handheld devices or mobile phones improve accuracy and facilitate real-time tracking. Tracking the status of the shipment in real time, through mobile devices, is now the standard.
Cloud-based real-time inventory management, accessible from anywhere, makes maintaining optimal stock levels easier, accelerates order fulfillment and eliminates customer agony over unavailability of an item in stock. Most warehouse management systems are already on the cloud, leveraging the anytime, anywhere access, better security and other benefits. By 2020, three out of four warehouse management systems will be on the cloud, and many enterprises will adopt a cloud-first or even cloud-only approach to their supply chain management.
Warehouse management systems have evolved to the next level from conventional mobile operating systems with limited hardware options. Next gen warehouses have greater flexibility when it comes to the choice of hardware, with Android tablets, ring scanners, wedge scanners, compact 2D barcode scanners and more all in the mix.
Enterprises are increasingly seeking hardware that best facilitates seamless integration with other systems and improves efficiency while simultaneously reducing costs. Ease of use and a smooth ergonomic design are also important considerations now when shortlisting hardware.
Logistics is already data driven. Going forward, analytics will improve and touch new ground. As the reach and impact of IoT extend, analytical capabilities increase and integration between systems and stakeholders deepen, stakeholders will gain access to a wider range of real-time information, including activities taking place with channel partners, product development status from the shop floor and more. Customers, for their part, would get an increasingly responsive data depository, gaining insight on the specific status of their product and the ability to make changes within the resources on hand. A customer could, for instance, easily adjust the delivery schedule depending on where the product is at a given point of time.
Development in predictive analytics improves forecasting accuracy in a big way. Businesses could, for instance, aggregate web-search data with buyer sentiment and location tracking to gain better insights into what customers are likely to buy and stock products accordingly. An ultra-lean organization could use predictive analysis to enable a just in time (JIT) inventory model, with optimized inventory levels at every point of their supply chain. The dominant result is invariably big productivity improvements and revenue gains.
Augmented reality (AR), powered by sensors, promises to be the next big thing that technology brings to the table. AR technologies have seen a 100% growth over a year and have an estimated $600 billion dollar value.
Instances of how augmented reality can impact supply chain and warehousing are limited only by imagination. For instance, pickers could wear glasses that recognize and scan items automatically, rather than search for a product and manually scan it. Planners can visualize a new warehouse or display store in full-scale, at the conceptual stage itself. Heads-up and windshield displays would allow truck drivers to re-route shipments to overcome roadblocks or match real-time demand.
Even the best-laid plans can be derailed. At last count, over 260 major natural disasters wrecked a combined $211 billion loss on supply chains and inventory in the U.S. alone. Businesses are becoming more and more resilient to cope with such threats. Real-time location tracking, integration of mobile sensor data with predictive analytics and other capabilities empower organizations to respond quickly and suitably to changing conditions. For instance, predictions of a storm could prompt companies to shift their physical warehouse or readjust delivery schedules.
In a highly competitive world, companies seek greater collaboration with their supply chain partners, such as shipping companies and order fulfillment agents. Seamless integration of the various stakeholders and their systems results in full visibility, 100% transparency, and smoother workflows.
Companies will rely more on electronic data interchange (EDI) to integrate with their supply chain networks and gain visibility into the movement of their critical goods. In addition, sophisticated third-party integration tools drive down the cost and quicken the pace of integration. Integrated systems offer a spin-off benefit in the form of valuable business intelligence, further improving efficiency and accuracy.
Fully integrated companies outpace non-integrated companies by 20%.
The ability to embrace innovations and take advantage of the synergy that partnerships bring along are now increasingly becoming a part of the core strategy of supply chain firms. While conventional business relationships will continue, supply chain partnerships are set to become more innovative and also more value based. For instance, the company could select a fulfillment partner depending on volumes, season, and other conditions. A collaborative platform to distribute fulfillment orders based on predicted fleet movements could cut costs for both partners.
Good talent is becoming harder to attract, while there is a greater stress on efficiency—signaling that increased automation is the future of supply chain management. Human intervention in supply chain operations is set to reduce to the minimum. Machine vision and robotics, already in widespread use in industrial applications, is poised to enter supply chain and logistics in a big way. Big ticket investments in automated warehouse solutions, such as Amazon’s Kiva Robotics, are the order of the day.
However, the importance of human ingenuity can never be underestimated. The human element will shift to a higher level and strategic tasks such as innovative planning, crafting seamless systems and identifying and eliminating roadblocks. Partnering with providers who make such tasks their sole focus and have the technical capability and know-how to execute robust logistics systems will enable enterprises to ride the technology wave to greater efficiency, better customer satisfaction and improved profitability.
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