• Supply Chain

Gaining Supply Chain Visibility with a Three Tiered Approach to IT Innovation

Written by Elias Schoelmann
March 13, 2017

Coordinating data across the supply chain is a key component of end-to-end supply chain visibility.

Coordinating data across the supply chain is a key component of end-to-end supply chain visibility.

Information technology advances are emerging as a prominent option for businesses facing mounting pressure across their supply chain, inventory management and fulfillment services. The warehouse is at the crux of these challenges, and organizations that can create greater data transparency for end users can drive improved decision-making, reduce user error and improve operational coordination between work teams.

Improving IT capabilities is a growing theme across the warehouse sector. A Peerless Research Group study reported on by Logistics Management pointed out that equipment investments in warehouse and distribution center settings are on the rise. Within this expansion, there is a growing theme of increased spending of information systems that fuel greater coordination across the supply chain. This is especially evident relative to pressures created by e-commerce, which is having a widespread impact on diverse sectors.

Using information systems to drive warehouse gains isn’t exactly a new story, but the convergence of a variety of trends is helping companies take advances to another level. If you want to drive meaningful procedural gains across every facet of the warehouse, consider a three-tiered approach to IT innovation.

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Tier 1: Coordinate Data Between User Groups

Everybody from the supply chain manager to a member of the sales team needs visibility into what is happening in the warehouse. Details about inventory levels, vendor capabilities and human resources availability plays a critical role across multiple departments.

Most businesses have data-driven operations in these areas. Dedicated enterprise resource planning platforms gather and coordinate data across various lines of the business, for example. However, many of these solutions do not integrate with one another, especially when it comes to getting information out to users dependent on mobile devices. If you need to manually push batches of orders between inventory modules and purchasing systems, the delay can hold your business back.

Integrating these backend systems and automating data workflows is the first component of digital innovation in the warehouse. Bringing the entire business together connects disparate teams that depend on one another without excessive user input, allowing employees to focus on their core competencies.

Tier 2: Expand Your Ability to Gather Data

The Internet of Things is creating new opportunities in a variety of operational settings – so much so that a McKinsey study predicted it will lead to between $4 and $11 trillion in positive economic disruption annually by 2025.

The IoT enables organizations to put integrated sensors, monitoring solutions and other connected devices with applications that can automatically trigger business processes based on the raw data they gather. Using the IoT to deliver actionable data to your end users through integrated backend systems allows warehouse teams to make more informed decisions that are founded in data instead of anecdotal observations.

Tier 3: Bring IT Functionality to Mobile Devices

All of these backend improvements will be disrupted if your actual employees can’t get to key data, applications and services when they’re on the job. If a maintenance worker is tasked with making a repair at one of your locations, he should be able to see if that location has the spare part necessary or if he needs to stop in a different warehouse on the way. This should all be possible without having to go back to an office with a desktop PC to find out.

Updating and informing users about the status of operations and assets across the supply chain is critical in avoiding wasted effort. Using robust mobile technologies to bring information systems together in streamlined end-user solutions is a vital component to finding success with data.

The idea of a data-driven warehouse can be exciting, but that potential is dependent on coordinating technical capabilities across a variety of disparate systems. Leading solution providers are delivering mobile frameworks and even specialized devices to make this possible, creating new opportunities to build every facet of the supply chain around your specific operational needs.