4 Technologies You Need in Your Supply Chain

Published : July 3, 2015

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Technology is all about making things better—we wouldn't hop in a horse-drawn carriage to do our grocery shopping or send a carrier pigeon to communicate with friends—so why use outdated supply chain technologies when there are so many innovations hitting the market? If you haven't been keeping up with the trade magazines or chatting about tools with peers, don't worry—you'll find four of the most useful tools available right here.

Which of these unique new options will help your company the most?

1.) RFID

Short for radio frequency identification, you've likely at least heard of this powerful technology in passing. These small nodes, typically implanted in a label or attachable tag, not only identify the specific product or box that they are attached to, they help with tracking shipments ranging from raw materials to finished manufacturing and even customer delivery.

As companies jockey for customer hearts and minds and don't find much budging room on price, RFID is emerging as a way to polish the customer service experience without adding a great deal of cost to the process. And it’s one of the easiest new technologies to integrate into an existing warehouse system, as the medium (labels) is already in use and familiar.

2.) Alternate Shipment Options

Using big names like UPS, FedEx, USPS and DHL will likely always be a part of supply chain workflows, but the last leg has been under considerable scrutiny as innovators search for a better, faster and cheaper option.

Jillian D'Onfro of SupplyChain247 reports on the latest buzz: Amazon's development of a customer-operated delivery system. While big names like Walmart had discussed and discarded this move in recent history, and upstart startups like Uber are making it a reality, the king of unique delivery options is poised to turn it into a mainstream approach.

With drones temporarily grounded in a mire of red tape, using a network of 'civilian' freelancers to trek the last mile to a customer's house may be the wave of the future. Depending on your industry, this movement can be extrapolated to supply chain technologies through methods such as smaller deliveries of time-sensitive components. In this case, individual delivery would allow those components to travel straight from their manufacturer without major carrier delays, or rough handling.

3.) The Internet of Things (IoT)

This buzz term has been everywhere in industry news in the last few months, and for good reason: With wireless data connectivity, such as that offered by RFID labels, becoming so widespread, it's only natural that the tools to gather and read that data would rise in popularity accordingly.

Handheld scanners, desktop computers, smartphones and tablets are natural anchors for building a comprehensive data network, but unusual applications can help flesh it out as well. Imagine the warehouse time clock automatically assigning a worker a pick/pack list after checking the status of other pick/pack lists in process in mere seconds. Consider the efficiency of a system that shifts orders depending on urgency, pending transportation delays, and even perishability of goods, all with no human interaction required.

In a warehouse management system that is linked to the cloud, executives don't have to waste time on "state of the system" meetings—it's all there to be seen and managed at a glance from the nearest computer. 

4.) Customer Transparency Tools

Call it regulatory caution, customer advocacy or just good customer service—transparency is no longer an "or," but an "and."

Customers expect to know where their goods are and how fast they'll be delivered, as well as if those same goods are in stock during the shopping process. Patience for the "look into it and call you back" style of problem solving is waning, and, in many cases, customers want to find out as much as they can without even approaching a human being.

A combination of meticulous real time record-keeping, carrier information interfaces and a well-built customer-facing dashboard make this possible for many companies, but if it hasn't made the jump to your own yet, it's time. Still skeptical? Consider the story of Domino's: An infusion of customer interaction and ordering tools online caused the company's flagging stock to jump over 14% in same store sales the first quarter alone.

Supply chain technologies aren't simply a matter of upgrades and operational realities any longer. In a business age where marketing, R&D, shipping and customer service are all huddled in the same mission control room, they are a living part of the company's progression. Don't neglect the opportunities these technologies offer, or you may find a competitor embracing your market share. 

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Topics: Supply Chain Technology

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