It’s all about the tech

If your supply chain feels old and inefficient it’s probably because it is. What can technology offer businesses seeking a ‘lean, mean supply-chain machine’?

How well do you really know your business? Not the products or services you offer - that's a given - but what goes on 'under the hood'. There's a good reason for asking. If the different functions in your business don't talk to each other, chances are your business is losing cash needlessly. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the design and management of your supply chain.

You may be strong on collections but how do you know you aren't pushing your small but still important suppliers into insolvency? And is your inventory management process really as efficient as it could be? The same line of questioning applies to your manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics facilities: how do you know they are delivering best value?

Consider this: it's not businesses that compete, but supply chains. If something fails in your supply chain and you can't deliver, your customers can go elsewhere, no matter how good the rest of your offering.

Here are five technologies that can help you see the big picture:

Supply Chain Planning Systems (SCP)

At the top, supply chain planning (SCP) systems optimize the way you manage all your process points, from supplier to customer. In one over-arching system, you can effectively join up the data you generate from separate areas such as inventory, distribution, manufacturing and demand management.

A single, real-time view of how each and every process relates to the others means you gain vastly improved data analytics and business intelligence. Knowing precisely what you do and how you do it helps you balance supply and demand so there is no wasting time nor money.

Typically, SCP will not only enable you to plan but also create what-if scenarios. This lets you safely put your entire supply chain demand under pressure so you can see what might happen and resolve any issues before they occur.

Supply Chain Visibility Technology (SCV)

As companies expand or outsource production, the likelihood of a single view of their supply chain movements lessens. Supply chain visibility (SCV) technology sits across all your operations giving you the control that comes with being able to track and trace inventory globally, even down to the delivery of line-items.

SCV systems let you enter your supply chain plans. In everyday usage, you can monitor and manage events as they happen across your supply chain. If there is a production interruption, a sudden demand change or an inventory shortage, for example, an alert will be generated. You can now respond quickly, perhaps re-routing a delivery or ramping up production.

Warehouse Management Technology (WM)

Real-time warehouse management (WM) technology is all about space, labor, equipment, tasks, and material flows within the warehouse. Again, e-commerce fulfillment is driving adoption of warehouse automation and control systems where handling high volumes and complex multiple line-item orders is essential, such as can be found in Amazon's operations, for example.
WM therefore not only helps you plan the equipment, staffing and layout for your needs but also how all these work together on a day-to-day basis.

Real-time warehouse management (WM) technology is all about space, labor, equipment, tasks, and material flows within the warehouse.

Transportation Management Systems (TMS)

Transportation management systems (TMS) are used to help you plan movement of your goods across all transportation modes, whether that's by road, rail, sea, air or a combination of these.

TMS offer simulations to help you design the way you put your loads together (especially useful for multiple drops) and then select the best transport mode and route. Most TMS will let you shop around for the most appropriate carrier for your needs. These systems will also assist you with managing your freight bills and payments. And, as with most systems giving you an enterprise-wide view of your activities, it lets you grab and analyze your data to see where you can make improvements.

Transportation Execution Marketplace (TEM)

As e-commerce grows, discussion of freight 'Uberization' is gathering volume in logistics management circles. The concept of the transportation execution marketplace (TEM) is based on the Uber taxi app. It lets you connect to multiple carriers, across transportation modes. By inputting what you need and when, suppliers can offer you their best price for delivery. The most likely usage is for `last mile' deliveries in the consumer goods space.

TEMs are a development of existing web-based cargo portals. These are mode-specific for air and sea carriers giving real-time availability, pricing and booking for several (but not all) carriers. They allow for live tracking cargo en-route so that action can be taken if, for example, a delay might affect your shipment from China.

More affordable radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and readers can give you the data you need to track and trace your goods. This can let you know instantly the shipping status of your goods, whether they have landed, are in customs clearance, being onward-shipped or at their destination. You can use RFID within your warehouse to plan and check stock location and levels. In a production facility, RFID can help monitor quality control of parts and stock re-ordering.

All of these technologies can improve supply-chain integration between production, logistics, finance, sales and marketing and other touch points. But when expanding your supply-chain, it increases risk, especially if operating overseas. Banking technology has a role to play here.

HSBC has a range of Supplier Finance Management solutions focused on delivering transactional efficiencies for buyer and supplier. Our global online banking platform, HSBCnet, offers access to the latest data and financial information, automated transactions, multiple payment types and standard and customized reporting options.

For more on streamlining your supply chain - you might enjoy Navigating the Long and Winding Road

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