Sourcetoday 344 Tablet 1

Using technology to improve supply chain management

Nov. 14, 2012
Keeping up with customer demand means keeping ahead of the technology curve to ensure better accountability and visibility

In order to stay competitive globally and remain on the cutting edge of a complex business world, more companies are incorporating technology into their supply chain management systems today. In recent years, consumers have become increasingly demanding, setting their expectations high when it comes to quality and service. At the same time, supply chain managers have come to realize that the latest technology can help them ensure better accountability and visibility, allowing them to maintain tight control and stay ahead of the pack.

Today’s technology has extensive capability when it comes to keeping a company’s production on track, anticipating and repairing mistakes, and making modifications that guarantee a top-quality product. Every link in the supply chain can be monitored simultaneously, and automated notification systems are especially valuable for sending a single message to many players through a variety of media channels.

Computerized shipping and tracking, and electronic invoicing, are also core components of a modern supply chain management system that is designed to keep customers satisfied.

The burgeoning array of supply chain-related apps and features for smart phones and other mobile devices is adding tremendous portability to supply chain management. With their long-lasting battery life, keyboard capabilities, barcode scanning, high-quality digital cameras and speech recognition features, tablet computers and smart phones provide excellent functionality for warehouse operations.

This is especially true for handheld devices that have been “ruggedized,” or specifically designed to withstand harsh environments and potential damage from being dropped or banged.

The mobility, flexibility and convenience of wireless devices mean supply chain managers can coordinate processes at every link in the chain, regardless of their physical location. In addition, employees, vendors and other supply chain partners can play active roles in ensuring efficiency—for example, truck drivers can use GPS-equipped devices to immediately report transportation snags that may disrupt processes further along the supply chain.

Software programs and cloud computing have greatly enhanced the tracking of materials and products, with real-time status updates available at the touch of a button. They also allow companies to adjust production schedules and inventory levels on the fly.

As the number of companies realizing the benefits of supply chain management technology increases, several multinational organizations continue to stand out as trendsetters and leaders in the arena. Among them:

  • The John Deere Company’s use of SmartOps logistics management software has helped the equipment supplier increase its on-time shipments to dealers from 63% to 92%, while reducing its inventory by nearly $1 billion.
  • Working with DHL Supply Chain, athletics footwear and apparel giant Nike implemented radio-based product monitoring for warehousing and distribution purposes and also introduced real-time delivery notification. The supply chain improvements have been credited with reducing costs and boosting efficiency.
  • Long renowned for its supply chain management processes, Walmart incorporates state-of-the-art technology and network systems to predict demand, track inventory levels and plan efficient transportation routes.
  • With dozens of distribution centers worldwide handling millions of products, must frequently fine-tune its supply chain. In 2012, for example, the online retailer announced it would buy Kiva Systems Inc., a manufacturer of robots and other automated technology for distribution centers.

From cutting costs to reducing production errors and enhancing customer service, technology is providing a slate of supply chain benefits to companies across all industries.

Dean Vella writes for University Alliance on business process management training and supply chain management.

Reach Dean at [email protected]

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