Technology is a welcomed tool for most suppliers and providers operating along a supply chain. The logistics, communication, training, and the application of data benefit greatly from the advent and infusion of technology. Yet there remains some supply chain issues that simply cannot be resolved solely through the use of technology.
Supply chains are manned by individuals, not just machines, and this must be accounted for in an attempt to find well-rounded logistics solutions.
Broken Links in the Supply Chain
A supply chain involves multiple partners and companies ranging from manufacturers to warehouse operators. Most companies operate along similar lines in terms of a supply chain, but, as noted in Supply Chain Brain, this is where the similarities end. There is no single industry standard for the application of logistics solutions-- especially when it comes to technology.
Each company develops their own standards as determined by their:
- Capabilities of technology based on funding, training and experience
- Ability, or lack thereof, to exchange data using technology
For example, where one company may have high-functioning logistics solutions utilizing technology, they may be working with suppliers and partners who are not integrated with their computerized ordering system. Even in those instances when companies are utilizing an advanced enterprise resource planning (ERP), there is often a disconnect in how each link along the supply chain utilizes that technology.
Multiply this issue across industries and continents and you begin to see the scope of the problem at hand.
Communication is Key
In order for a supply chain to flow uninterrupted, there must be an open and active dialog between Point A and Point B. Carriers, suppliers and warehouses need to be able to communicate with customer service, purchasing, marketing and manufacturing teams. Of course, in the internet age, there's really no excuse for being disconnected. But the connection-- typically an ERP or similar system-- is useless without the people who utilize it.
A successful logistics team must have individuals who are responsive and on the mark when it comes to using these types of technology for communication. Without the human connection, even the best information technology or ERP cannot mend a broken supply chain.
For an example of how critical the human element of the supply chain can be, take a look at how SMS text messaging was applied, unsuccessfully, to the distribution of water in third world countries.
As Esha Chhabra reported in Forbes, SMS-based applications were used by NextDrop, an app that is being used to solve water problems in India. But while the world has more cell phone users than indoor toilets, but that doesn't mean the world's most pervasive technology can improve logistics.
In countries where illiteracy is high (a problem we see here in the US in regions like Appalachia), text messaging provides nothing more than gibberish to recipients. Additionally, NextDrop soon discovered that the majority of those using the app to get fresh drinking water were speaking in multiple, minor languages. Finding the missing link in the supply chain meant connecting with the human experience.
When working in an industry that is linked by logistics teams, having strong, stable IT and ERP systems is vital to the success of a supply chain. However, even with the most advanced ERP or IT department, a company that lacks in communication is bound to encounter resistance to growth.
You must combine your logistics technology with the people who have skill set and training necessary to ensure open lines of communication. Remember that while technology is a wonderful tool, it must be applicable and user friendly across the board— something that has yet to occur even in this golden age of globalization.