What are the ways to build up and optimize your supply chain and increase accuracy in your inventory? Jim Hilton, Zebra’s Vertical Strategy Lead in Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics shares on the how technology solutions and investments can speed up order fulfillment.
Today’s omnichannel marketplace has raised consumer demands and expectations higher than ever. The roles of supply chain organizations are changing. Many manufacturers and third-party logistics (3PL) partners are having to adapt fulfillment models to accommodate the shrinking retail space and consumer demand for more personalized products, which is causing SKU counts to multiply far beyond the level that many retailers and their industry partners could forecast a few years ago. Retailers are also becoming more reliant on manufacturing and 3PL partners to help process orders and returns, which is a workflow that many are still trying to define.
However, to successfully serve the demands of today’s customers, collective operations need to be more flexible, agile, and capable of sharing data in real time. In other words, these unprecedented collaborations require smart technology solutions that can provide greater transparency and connectivity throughout the entire supply chain operation. Increasing utilization of mobile, RFID, barcoding and printing solutions – as well as more advanced Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain systems – can empower all parties to satisfy customer demands in the optimum (i.e. the most efficient and most cost-efficient) way. It is also necessary to improve internal visibility between distribution centers and selling channels, which is essential to attaining a higher level of inventory accuracy.
Respondents to Zebra’s recent Future of Fulfillment Vision Study estimate their current inventories are only 66 percent accurate. This needs to improve greatly to survive in the e-fulfillment age.
The best way to improve collective inventory planning and management – and prevent out of stocks and/or overstocks – is to ensure your partners are taking steps to improve visibility into their individual operations. Your supply chain forecasting is based on data aggregated from partners. Therefore, your ability to improve inventory accuracy rates are inherently influenced by your entire supply chain’s inventory reporting. If you or your partners flow outdated or “best guess” inventory counts into your shared planning systems, then you risk further shortages or overages. The former leads to costly fulfillment and customer satisfaction issues. The latter also impacts your bottom line as you now need to find a way to move the inventory – and store it in the meantime. It also makes it challenging to automate order processing.