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Supply chain disruption continues to put pressure on distributors, particularly those that don’t have optimal technology and solutions in place to adapt and be resilient. But which solutions truly help distributors achieve these objectives and modernize their operations?
Here, we’ll outline what top software providers and partners have learned during the pandemic, and their top strategies for supply chain modernization.
To start, here are a few lessons learned during the pandemic:
The pandemic changed the world view of having on-premises infrastructure versus Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). On-premises solutions involve on-site equipment and connectivity. When the pandemic forced people out of the office, this was difficult to maintain, manage and access. With SaaS solutions, your infrastructure is hosted elsewhere and accessible from anywhere. You relieve yourself of the liabilities of maintaining and managing on-premises solutions, and you remove location-based risks and limitations.
At the start of the pandemic, many businesses had to let go of employees to reduce expenses. This meant reduced support for their in-house systems, and many found they still had to fill the gaps with consultants and contractors, adding cost. Now, companies are struggling with both the labor shortage and the uncertainty of existing labor. You likely have employees with siloed knowledge who know your systems from end to end. What happens if you already let them go, they leave or they’re unavailable? And how challenging will it be to find a replacement?
On-premises, siloed applications don't have the flexibility to adapt to the changing supply chain landscape. Businesses must be more adaptable. The Cloud provides agility and resiliency. In fact, companies that could leverage the benefits of the Cloud were most successful navigating the pandemic. The Cloud allows you to extend or integrate services, add or reduce capacities as demand and supply changes, and map and integrate new processes, all quicker and more easily than with on-premises systems.
When it comes to managing the supply chain and its moving parts, sometimes easiest is best. Today, there are many variables and options for tracking data and operating your warehouse. And they’re simpler, more intuitive and more accessible. Where it used to be true that modernizing a warehouse shop floor was daunting because it wasn’t seamless to manage labeling, barcoding, racking locations, stock status, etc., the modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) is more mature and flexible.
Being able to manage barcodes, different standards of labeling and scanning, license plating and more with your ERP, mobile devices and Bluetooth scanners has changed the game. Still, with the variety of options available, your investment can be as minimal or substantial as required (or desired). For instance, inbound and outbound counting activities can be done systematically with inexpensive scanning devices.
When you’re ready to start or continue your modernization process, it helps to have insights from experts in supply chain software and trends. Here are six of the most effective tools and strategies experts recommend for modernizing the supply chain in today’s environment.
Mobility helps solve common warehousing challenges, such as low inventory visibility and poor traceability. Most modern ERPs have core configurations to help you eliminate these challenges and achieve mobility. They can manage different types of barcode solutions, such as license plates. You can put barcode labels and associated serial numbers on individual items in cases, palletize the cases, shrink wrap them and put a master label (license plate) on the pallet to get traceability against the pallet.
Additionally, you can replace many heavy, expensive and outdated devices you might be using with better, less expensive options today. For instance, for inbound and outbound counting, you can run an extension in your browser that’s tied to your interface. This extension can run on a low-cost tablet (as low as $200) and a Bluetooth scanner (as low as $50).
Inventory accuracy and transparency are trust-defined. Many companies don’t know the inventory value of all the inventory on their floor at any one time. With today’s technology when you receive any standard item on your floor, you’ll have a product receipt stating the amount you received. In the stock virtual warehouse, you can see the debits and credits against locations in the warehouse for those items. You have complete traceability at the transaction level, device level, and the date and time stamp level. This helps you overcome the trust issue with core inventory.
Compound this with your counting activities. Many supply chain professionals used to count inventory every year. Now, concepts like doing percentage counting along with your picks inputs for the day gives you momentary snapshots of inventory.
In terms of transparency, it’s not just how much you have and what its stock status is, but also:
This sets you up for complete transparency of how an item moves in and out of your facility to customer sites or stock status change.
In the product sense, a site is a physical address with a physical structure. Inside of that warehouse or in that site, you have a stock status. It could be raw materials, stock, quarantine inspection, transit or web. Modern virtual stock status, or virtual warehousing, has really changed our abilities for picking and other operations. For instance, if a pallet gets destroyed with a forklift, you can look at that location, scan the license plate on the pallet and simply change the stock status. This as opposed to needing to physically pick it up, take it out back and send a note to someone to adjust it out so it can be registered in the system against the stock.
Many companies receive orders through one of several Electrical Data Interchanges (EDI). With EDI, customers want a response stating that the order was received and when it will be sent. An EDI professional, such as Data Masons or TrueCommerce, can help you define and set up those core reports. That way, if a sales order is sent and the customer wants an acknowledgement, there are two different reports and triggers of how they fire. Those professionals can help you manage against the entry and exit of different types of transactions against the ERP system.
Barcodes are on almost all products in the world today, and barcode structure is an important consideration for modernizing your operations. Your barcodes might have a specific combination of key numbers that you need to choose and define. And you’ll need a method to get the labeling stickers on products and boxes. Often, distributors find that vendors haven’t stickered their boxes with barcodes and it’s up to them to do the labeling. The ability to generate those labels from the system when you receive items means you’ll have a product receipt, pick tickets, labels, everything in your hands. A modern ERP supports that today.
For instance, if you want to take several items and sell them as a kit, you can go into the system and define that these discrete items are kit components in the kit master and are now part of a new bundle or kit with a new item number and ID. You can also define the start date, stop date and price.
The most critical component of your modernization efforts is the ERP you choose. The right system for you depends on the size of your company, the time you have and the time it will take, whether you have the resources and tenacity to get through rapid start templates to shorten your implementation time and reduce cost, what your ecosphere needs to look like, etc.
It’s also important to identify what you’re doing right today and what you have to do tomorrow, so you can identify the best solution and map out the most realistic implementation. Every good house build starts with a blueprint and a qualified contractor. To be successful and avoid disappointment, you must know what you’re getting, what the house looks like, what the budget is and what the deliverables are.
Distributors hesitate to modernize their supply chain for many reasons. For instance, it may be that you aren’t ready for the technology and:
Yet, lack of decision-making costs companies millions of dollars. If you’re hesitant, consider that with most Cloud environments:
In terms of Microsoft ERP products, you have two modern options to consider depending on your business:
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central: Business Central provides a substantial base level of functionality. For instance, compared to legacy ERP systems with a standalone warehouse management system (WMS) integrated, Business Central has native WMS core functionalities. There are independent software vendors (ISVs) that extend the capabilities to enhance the core Business Central capabilities. It is a tier-two solution and barcoding and scanning are not native to it. You would need to bring in the technology to augment the software.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management: Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain (formerly Finance and Operations or F&O) has the same feature set as Business Central, but with additional functionality. It includes payroll, financial management, credit and collections, revenue recognition, human capital management, benefits management, process manufacturing, point of sale order management if needed, and more. It is an all-encompassing, tier-one solution. It is more expensive and more time-intensive to install, but it has much more flexibility and barcode scanning and mobility are built in.
To determine the right system for you and design your implementation, you need to do significant planning around where you are today and what changes you’ll need to make in your processes. You’ll need to plan for change management, which can be challenging if you’re dealing with staffing uncertainty. And you’ll want to ensure engagement and participation from all departments.
The world is changing and supply chains are being affected. It's important to be agile and adopt new technology. It’s best to work with a trusted partner to work through the project of modernizing your supply chain so you get an ideal roadmap and avoid issues with change management. A partner can help make sure you have the right data and decision criteria as you go through this process, helping you get the facts and do the right research. A partner can also perform an assessment to understand what it will take to migrate, what solution you need and how to phase that solution in.
This might mean thinking small to start. Rather than spend two years building the perfect system, you can implement minimal changes, such as to warehousing and inventory, to create small victories for your teams, see immediate results and breed success.
Implementing such modern foundational systems enables you to perform better now and prepare for what’s next. But lack of decision-making and collaboration could mean wasted time and efforts – and even millions in spending. When you work with a strong partner, they can help ensure your project isn’t shelved.
At Enavate, we’ve helped many customers modernize their environments. As you consider modernizing your supply chain infrastructure, you don’t have to do it on your own. Join our Supply Chain Expert Panel, Thursday, Aug. 3, to hear firsthand how these strategies are helping companies like yours or reach out and let us provide expert guidance and insights for your transition.