Commerce city: Architecting supply chain infrastructure for omni-channel


iStock_000023202165_LargeThe supply chain is like a little city. With so many facets, from people and utilities to developmental initiatives, the supply chain, like a city, takes a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to operate efficiently and effectively. There are numerous parts to the whole, which can either be cogs in a machine working fluidly or factions that disrupt the overall performance.

Many of the cities built more recently in the world are erected according to blueprints that attempt to plan for all the different aspects that go into how a municipality runs. Ideally, both buildings and the surrounding area function in harmony, building on the existing foundational infrastructure to thrive.

The supply chain shares many similarities with the city, and even more so with the introduction and rise of omni-channel commerce. Now, the digital realm often impacts how the physical world has to run. The challenge is to get everything running seamlessly. Companies can invest in supply chain management tools that help them establish a firm foundation for omni-channel commerce, construct the infrastructure that supports it and ensure that all facets of the system can be run cost-efficiently.

Rearranging the foundation
Going from a supply chain that supports legacy commerce approaches to one that pushes omni-channel initiatives doesn't have to be a demolition project - there's no need to go back to square one in order to rebuild. Rather, infrastructure and the processes it supports need to be rearranged. This can be a difficult process, as any large-scale recalibration effort can have its share of pitfalls. It's important that companies identify areas that need some level of an overhaul in order to be ready for omni-channel commerce, whether it's order management schemes, billing processes, customer fulfillment efforts or transportation management. 

So how does a supply chain management solution facilitate a foundational shift? Assistance from a service provider includes important preliminary steps such as evaluating existing processes to document data and gain full visibility into performance. Then, using the collected information and analysis, the provider and company can develop key performance indicators that can then be leveraged for making incremental enhancements to different functions of the chain. As Forbes contributor David Trites recently observed, organizations need to collect data from their operational and customer-focused streams to jump-start predictive analytics. It's important to use this information to visualize improvements and fashion the road map that gets the business there.

The thriving metropolis
In a recent piece for the Harvard Business Review, contributor Darrell Rigby wrote about the necessity of building an omni-channel commerce network that focuses in equal parts on digital and physical initiatives. While virtual stores and Internet-based selling may be grabbing headlines, it's just as important, if not more critical, to ensure that physical supply chain infrastructure is oriented toward growth and development.

"A common argument is that rapidly evolving digital technologies will increase e-commerce's advantages," Rigby wrote. "But retailers who fuse the best of digital and physical technologies ... can capitalize on digital advantages both online and in stores. Digital technologies will improve in-store visual merchandising, help customers choose the type of service they prefer, speed checkout times, customize offers and provide virtual connections to global experts or trusted friends."

It's like managing a city - shiny new toys may catch the eye of planners, but the utilities, systems and other support infrastructure that innovations need to thrive must be set in place. Working with a supply chain management strategies and solutions provider allows organizations to both accurately assess the current state of their end-to-end network and leverage tools and initiatives focused on optimizing it. That way, the foundation is ready to accommodate unfolding developments and experimental strategies.

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