In today's fast-moving enterprise landscape, making supply chain management more efficient should be a top priority. As the pace of business increases, challenges that once seemed far off on the horizon soon arrive at a company's doorstep. Poor links on the supply chain are magnified as they drag down a company's efforts to be productive. And if a business's enterprise communication system still seems like a game of "can you hear me now?," it's clear that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Efficiency is rapidly becoming an all-encompassing initiative. It's no longer enough to have most supply chain members up to speed. The total ecosystem will only perform as well as its weakest link. Improving speed without sacrificing quality requires a multi-faceted approach. Communications, infrastructure, ordering processes, transactions and personnel management at a granular level will all contribute to the rising and falling of the entire enterprise structure's fortunes.
As supply chains become more digital, this means that many supply chain management technologies and systems will have more overlap. This can mean heightened complexity, which requires more intricate, intense management strategies. On the other hand, this natural convergence offers businesses a way to streamline their operations, making them more dynamic and economical.
Let's take a look at some strategies to improve supply chain management.
1. Enter the cloud: A sweeping technological transformation may be in store for companies that choose to adopt the cloud for some of their business-critical supply chain needs. The disruptive technology has received accolades for the potential benefits it offers operations oversight, information storage and managed file transfers. In the cloud, applications and data are stored on physical or virtual servers, often managed by an IT services provider for optimal security. This simplifies access and sharing techniques, which can greatly increase productivity.
Forbes contributor Louis Columbus observed that, deployed intelligently, the cloud can help supply chains achieve their upside potential. However, not all applications are fit for the cloud. Enterprises should weigh the cloud's capacity to simplify a system's effect on the network versus the sensitivity of data sharing. Sales and operations planning, transport management systems and store shelf optimization are three cloud-friendly supply chain applications. Many suppliers and customers can benefit from access to this information, while they are not critical privacy risks.
2. Unify communications platforms: Many companies operate with less-than-efficient supply chains, simply because they haven't updated communications practices or upgraded to new technologies. The slow vestiges of paper-based communications are still apparent in communications approaches that run primarily through email, with faxes, phones and messaging tools also included to some extent. Waiting for email confirmations and printed orders from a supplier can slow a company's progress. On the other hand, mixing mobile messaging, email, landline phones and other forms of communication increases the risk that the message will be garbled or information integrity may be compromised.
Businesses can use more unified communications platforms and tools to streamline their supply chain management efforts, according to Business 2 Community contributor Auke Hylarides. Using B2B portals enables producers, wholesales and logistics operators to communicate using a unified, dynamic platform. A cloud- or Web-based enterprise resource planning program can be accessed and updated by all supply chain members, giving other contributors real-time awareness up and down the supply chain.
Mobile technology can also be integrated to make it easier for remote employees and contributors to communicate and collaborate with other enterprise stakeholders. Social technology can also be deployed to add messaging capabilities, similar to interactions on Twitter or LinkedIn, which keep information streams pumping.
3. Encourage collaboration: With better communication tools present, businesses can also build their collaborative rapport across the supply chain to eliminate confusion. Traditionally, most supply chain members are solely concerned with their own performance and output. While it's certainly important for each stakeholder to ensure they're meeting deadlines and turning in quality performance, silos along the supply chain make it difficult to address inefficiencies in any meaningful way.
Many supply chain members simply pass the buck. Many times, not fully understanding how their own activity connects to other teams can breed a flippant attitude. Companies can boost holistic supply chain management by working with all stakeholders to develop a roadmap for consistent, continuous and collaborative improvement. According to Plant Engineering contributor Lea Tonkin, department benchmarks, supplier rating systems and unified practices can all boost supply chain collaboration.
"Effective documentation of on-time delivery, quality and other issues, accompanied by problem-solving activities such as team huddles at area boards boost understanding about needed changes," wrote Tonkin. "Employ product impact and defective material reports as the foundation for discussion and problem resolution."
4. Let machines do the work: Many of the logistical issues in supply chain management arise from the innate unpredictably of machines. Production and transportation tools are critical to every step of the supply chain. Unplanned outages and system failures lead to downtime, which can reverberate at other levels of the conglomerate. Now, intelligent machine-based tools can help boost continuity and asset planning strategies, which in turn drive efficiency. Demand for machine-to-machine communication is on the rise, according to Frost & Sullivan, as automation, data analysis and systems integration tools can be leveraged to drive insight and transparency into machine functionality.
As the saying goes: "You can't manage what you can't measure." Predicting machine failures and downtime enables stakeholders to identify and fix potential issues before they become real ones. This provides the opportunity for enterprises to improve their top-down functionality on the fly, instead of only making updates after operations have come to a screeching halt.
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