What are the ideal elements of a forward-looking supply chain strategy?
This is just one of the questions driving decisions as we peer into the future of logistics. Here are some others.
- How do we gain and maintain an edge on the competition?
- How do we use our niche of the world supply chain to meet the challenges of globalization, rising consumer demands, and trends in e-commerce—during a pandemic?
- What can we do to achieve ideal balance between supply and demand?
Here's a list of keys to consider when building a forward-looking supply chain strategy. The goal is to provide you value with a combination of some tried-and-true fundamentals, but more importantly, some fresh, outside-the-box ideas.
Fundamentals and Disruption
The fundamental pillars of supply chain strategy have been, and will be, around forever. But on the other hand, technological tools are disrupting everything in myriad ways, and it's foolish to ignore that broader trend. So, here are the strategies and elements we'll dive into:
- QR codes
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Contactless paperwork and the digitized document software driving it
- Becoming friends with internet trends
- Here's an odd data point—ask a teenager what's cool
Unprecedented times call for creativity and hard work. So, let's get to work!
QR Codes Aren't Dead!
The first trend we'll cover in forward-looking supply chains is QR codes. These seemed to have a hype moment several years back before fading away. But QR codes have regained popularity in recent years, especially in Asia. Now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes are hitting another level. Why? There are a few reasons.
The main feature of QR codes is that they're contactless. You just point and click.
QR codes also house a lot of information. According to Beaconstac.com, industries across many sectors now use QR codes. Everything from logistics, product packaging, social media platforms, and restaurant menus to health care services and more are finding new and inventive ways to use contactless QR code technology.
From a strategic standpoint, the takeaway is this: Any tech you plan to incorporate into your supply chain strategy should create space for QR code interfacing. Talk to marketing, quality assurance, and the shipping department about QR codes while you're at it.
Contactless features in general are trending. We'll touch on this more below regarding digitized documents.
The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Back
The internet of things (IoT) had a "why bother?" moment several years back. It seems like no one really saw the need for their toaster to have internet connectivity. But IoT is an area to watch.
In terms of a forward-looking supply chain strategy, bringing IoT connectivity to the manufacturing floor could be a huge return on investment. How so? A connected piece of automated machinery can be monitored remotely by personnel and predictive software. In other words, you can sweat your assets with less labor power.
Another use case example for IoT already in play is telematics in the freight industry. The telematics systems inside modern trucks are in constant communication with fleet management software. Similarly, drivers are in constant contact with dispatchers and warehouses by using IoT tools, such as geofencing, GPS, and digitized workflow apps.
The bottom line is, we're all constantly connected thanks to our phones. The new uses of IoT will provide more seamless productivity.
Everything's Going Contactless, Powered by Digitized Document Software
Everything is going contactless. This is the larger trend I alluded to earlier, and digitized document software removes the need for paper copies.
Imagine the supply chain without paper. How much time is involved with the paper management of bills of lading, proofs of delivery, and pre-trip checklists? In general, a contactless, digitized world promises to be more efficient and cost effective in significant ways.
A white paper focused on contactless pickup and deliveries by Vector underscores the key questions that digitized technology answers.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Contactless Services
Here's a contactless checklist:
- Paperless Freight: How can your organization go paperless, from bills of lading to proofs of delivery to pictures and pretrip checklists?
- Risk Mitigation, Health, and Safety: How can your organization protect your workers and your business during times of pandemic?
- Reduced Dwell Time: How do you get drivers in and out of facilities faster?
- Easier Audits: How do you make audits simpler for accounting?
- Easier Doc and Data Search: Is it possible to make it easier to search and store paperwork?
- Faster Invoicing: One-click invoicing would help your cash flow, but how does it work?
- Sustainability: How can your organization protect your brand and the environment?
- Supply Chain Visibility: How can you become a leader in the supply chain with next-generation tools that harness the power of key performance indicators?
- Functionality: What are the customizable features of contactless software that your company can use? For example, do you have enough recurring freight to set up one-click invoicing?
- Integrations: How will contactless software integrate with the rest of your company’s tech stack? This may include your transportation management system, your distribution management system, telematics, and so on.
- The Future: How do you best stage your entire technology stack for the future?
We look for every advantage in the competitive marketplace. We see the trends all around us in tech. Contactless technology needs to be incorporated into every forward-looking supply chain strategy.
Check Internet Search Metrics for Raw Data on Trends
Internet search metrics are a new source of data that could prove very beneficial when building and tracking your supply chain strategy. By now we're all familiar with the concept of trending news topics. In fact, it's become somewhat newsworthy when a surprising search term suddenly finds itself trending in the news.
But according to Supply Chain Dive, data produced by tracking search trends is a leading indicator that can help predict demand spikes.
Internet search metrics are a raw source of information. The idea is simple. And you can provide quantified answers to a host of questions:
- How many potential customers are searching for your industry, company, or products?
- How many potential customers are searching for your competitor's products?
- Where are people searching for these products located?
- Are these searches occurring at certain times or seasons during the year?
- Are these searches occurring at certain times of day, or on certain days of the week?
- Has a promotion or marketing effort increased internet searches?
- Has a global or local event precipitated or coincide with a demand spike?
I recommend everyone spend some time on Google Analytics. It's an insightful experience that can also produce actionable data. Indeed, trend data can be useful for anyone concerned about maintaining their supply chain strategy.
Ask a Teenager What's Cool These Days
Here's one last idea to incorporate into your supply chain strategy: Ask a teenager what's in style. Granted, your random odd teenager is a source of data at the opposite end of the spectrum from Google Analytics. And yes, the opinion of one individual is a very narrow data point.
But see what that teen has to say. If you can get more than a one-word answer, you might be surprised what you insights you might learn. After all, predictive models work best in normal, consistent, black-swan-free environments. Put another way, if your models aren't working, you need to look elsewhere. Maybe what you find out will support your data, or maybe your results will suggest a different direction.
Beyond that, teens tend to be plugged directly into social networks. As digital natives, the younger generations tend to be early adopters of technology in general. I imagine you'll find they're able to speak intelligently for their demographic about broader general trends. And if nothing else, they can show you how to use a QR code!
In short, teens are an intriguing source of unpublished data. But in addition, open a dialogue with as as many people as you can think of. That includes the folks working in shipping and receiving, the back office personnel, the sales team, and even your neighbor. Remain curious, and you may be surprised what you learn.
Just as you would with any source of data, be sure to check back in with your teenager regularly. You may be able to gain a high-level idea of what trends are coming—and which ones are sooo last year.
The overall idea today is that new technologies, new ways of thinking, and new sources of data must be considered when you're building an elite, forward-looking supply chain strategy. The future is right around the corner!
Guess what? The future will always be uncertain to a certain degree. So use all the best tools available. Ask questions, stay curious, and remain open to new possibilities! Godspeed!
This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.