Supply Chain Innovation in Times of Disruption: The Key to Competitive Retail

992
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Bottlenecks at international ports. Shipping containers piling up. Empty store shelves. Price spikes for consumer goods. These woes have thrust the supply chain into the global consciousness.

Regardless of the complexity of any particular supply chain, the buck stops at the customer touchpoint – and retail owns that touchpoint.

Retail may be the part of the supply chain that faces the customer, but customer delight depends upon the entire chain working properly. Retailers must achieve ever-higher levels of customer intimacy, building immersive retail experiences across the buyer journey.

Omnichannel experiences that support end-to-end customer journeys have now become the norm in an increasingly Amazoned retail landscape. The bar for omnichannel, however, is set quite high.

Every component of the customer experience must be working properly to achieve such customer delight. One hiccup and the entire thing can fail – hence the importance of process transformation driving innovation in the supply chain.

Technology is the Problem

Modern retail depends upon digital technologies to be sure – but older, legacy technologies get in the way.

The vendors of yesterday’s supply chain execution systems created those behemoths to gain efficiencies for standardized processes with predictable outcomes.

Over time, supply chain participants ended up with slow, bloated systems and processes. Integrating systems to achieve any kind of end-to-end process capability was a nightmare, leading to the loss of business context from one application to another.

This house of cards prevented companies from accessing the data they required to run their businesses and compete in a changing competitive landscape.

Legacy technologies essentially jailed their business data in siloed systems that at best can only interact through limited API interactions that did little to preserve the business context essential to implement the process transformation necessary to support the modern buyer journey.

Such process transformation, however, is easier said than done. Fundamentally, the core applications that have long driven supply chains – supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and a plethora of logistics applications – are now long in the tooth, slowing organizations down.

Nobody ever intended such now-legacy enterprise applications to support the modern process transformation necessary to drive innovative digital priorities. It was good enough at the time simply to automate basic processes like order to cash, schedule to fill, and forecast to plan.

Today, such applications live in technology silos, often working at cross purposes from one another. As a result, much of the IT budget goes for maintenance – simply keeping these dinosaurs of the twentieth century up to and running. There are scant resources left for even a modicum of innovation, let alone process transformation.

The good news (if there is any) is that your competitors are in the same boat. There’s no magic wand for solving all the technology ills in any supply chain-centric company. There are, however, strategies and technologies for improving the situation – sometimes dramatically.

It’s All about the Data

Replacing legacy applications like SCM and ERP is an extraordinarily risky, expensive, and time-consuming endeavour. In some cases, there’s simply no choice, but more often than not, there’s a better way of achieving strategic business goals.

Platforms like UCBOS abstract the various capabilities of each application via comprehensive integration technologies that enable organizations to access the data within each application in a consistent, real-time manner.

Such integration provides value well beyond simply exposing the functionality of existing enterprise apps. Today’s supply chain is a massively interconnected web of third parties, each with its own technologies and data formats. The right platform can connect these disparate data sources into a single version of truth for the enterprise.

Process transformation can’t really begin until the organization has sufficient business context. Note, however, that business context varies within enterprises depending upon business unit, partners, and geo-level policies and procedures.

All of these factors require access and visibility into all important data both inside and outside the enterprise. Once those data are accessible, process transformation can start – and with it, a platform for ongoing innovation.

From Data to Process Transformation

Application integration and data integration are two legs of the stool. The third leg is orchestration.

Within the context of a platform like UCBOS, orchestration composes functionality and associated data from one application to the next, stringing them together into automated process implementations.

In other words, instead of thinking of individual legacy applications supporting specific processes, the organization is now able to create and evolve new and transformed processes that cross applications.

The power of such orchestration drives both supply chain transformation as well as innovation, resolving many of the bottlenecks even as organizations look to meet changing customer demands in new ways.

The secret sauce underlying such orchestration is, of course, the data – the single source of truth across individual applications that represent the true state of affairs at any moment across the supply chain.

Such data support visibility into the workings of every supply chain participant, as well as predictive capabilities that can optimize business outcomes while supporting modern retail priorities.

The Intellyx Take

Retailers, wholesalers and other intermediaries, logistics providers, manufacturers, and even raw materials suppliers all depend upon complex IT systems and applications to run their businesses

Point solutions (either on-premises or cloud-based) can maintain the status quo but cannot mitigate disruptions as the disruption varies for everyone.   

The difference between winners and losers in the marketplace often depends upon the employment of technology that can address such disruptions.

The long-term winners in today’s dynamic, competitive retail marketplace are the companies that can innovate – bringing new, transformed products and services to the buyer’s journey.

Technology must step up to the plate to make this innovation a reality. Platforms like UCBOS combine the integration, visibility, and orchestration necessary for retailers to succeed in today’s turbulent times.