2018 was a year of impressive growth for many manufacturers, transporters, 3PLs and warehouse operators: a strong on-demand economy led consumers to embrace the omnichannel retail model for everything from cars to clothes, big-ticket technology items to everyday grocery essentials. That generated increasing demands on manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and delivery services. It also placed renewed pressure on many organizations to invest in technology solutions that would enable them to meet new compliance, efficiency and cost standards enforced by industry regulators, partners and customers alike while simultaneously addressing a capacity shortage from both the warehousing and transportation perspectives.
In the last 12 months, many manufacturers took meaningful strides toward modernizing technology infrastructures in their factories and implementing fully paperless workflows. Warehouses began their migration from Windows Mobile and CE operating to Android-based mobile computers, and T&L leaders continued to upgrade their scanners and mobile computers to more advanced, reliable rugged technology platforms that can provide real-time guidance for drivers and loading dock crews. The goal is to keep things moving without delay, and these fundamental technology investments are mission-critical for companies that want to keep up with growing consumer expectations without compromising operational efficiency or precision.
But it is no longer enough to simply give workers a mobile device in lieu of paper-based forms or checklists. Manufacturers, retailers and their T&L industry partners have become highly co-dependent on one another to meet the expedited production and delivery deadlines dictated by the “on-demand economy.” There is a shared accountability to deliver what customers want, when they want it – and that requires supply chain organizations to deliver what their industry partners need, when they need it. Yes, using mobile technologies to collaboratively track and trace raw materials or finished goods, increase picking and packing speeds, conduct thorough quality inspections and manage real-time order changes is now mandatory. But so is continued innovation.
If anything is clear as we look ahead in 2019, it’s that mobile technology utilization is ripe for expansion, and many supply chains are well-primed to implement more advanced Internet of Things (IoT) solutions throughout their production, warehousing, and distribution operations. Real-time data accessibility – and a clear understanding of that data – have become essential to the improvement of supply chain performance and central to meeting consumers’ growing expectations.
Data Delivered Faster
Manufacturers, T&L providers and warehouse/DC operators require up-to-the-minute asset data to identify inventory locations, understand customer preferences, manage change orders, improve utilization and more. It is real-time data that empowers them to relieve congestion on warehouse floors, alert team members when materials have arrived, flag issues to managers and remain agile during periods of market volatility.
Openly sharing data with internal teams and industry partners via IoT technologies, wearables, rugged scanners or rugged mobile devices – such as handheld, tablet, and vehicle-mounted computers – can increase collaboration and help identify spot areas for improvement throughout the supply chain. In fact, sharing and acting on real-time data will likely differentiate enterprises over the next year, giving users of real-time data a performance edge over those lagging in their deployment of real-time data collection and distribution solutions.
The prioritization of convenience for consumers reinforces the need for manufacturers and T&L leaders to invest in enterprise-grade IoT and mobility solutions. Business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) operations have traditionally been separate within these industries. However, with the growing popularity of e-commerce, there is more pressure for companies to accommodate a B2B2C business model. Drop shipping and direct-to-consumer shipments, or sending goods from warehouses directly to consumers, will continue to gain traction over the course of the next year. Successfully executing these two delivery models will require manufacturers and their supply chain partners to embrace digital technology architectures that facilitate the faster movement – and improve the management – of goods as they change hands from the factory through the last mile. IoT technologies are central to these architectures as they are uniquely capable of providing deep visibility into business processes and supporting increased transit speeds. They also keep customers continuously informed about the movement of their purchases, which keeps them happy and minimizes the burden on your team to field order status inquiries. But IoT is not just beneficial for asset tracking; though it certainly excels at that job.
Just consider the expansive capabilities of Zebra’s Savanna™ data intelligence platform. You have massive volumes of data flowing through your organization every second, but it is useless unless you have a way to quickly collect this data from your devices and sensors in real-time and then analyze that raw data to gain an accurate picture of your current business – and supply chain – performance. Savanna encompasses building blocks such as IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The platform powers next-gen applications and solutions, allowing them to transform seemingly disparate nuggets of data into digestible, and actionable, insights that are accessible across a host of mobile computing devices that are already in the hands of workers, supply chain partners and customers. These intelligent edge solutions create the data-powered environments and provide the real-time guidance needed to replace “best guesses” with fully-informed decisions.
Ultimately, more enterprises will rely on technology-agnostic platforms such as Savanna to reveal the best path forward for their digital transformation. More manufacturers and T&L providers will be empowered to progressively innovate in a way that delivers fully digital workflows, increases efficiency, and makes business more profitable and productive, without being disruptive or wasteful.