When it comes to supply chains, most of the attention is focused on improvements in the outbound flow and financials – specifically warehouse and logistics management and purchase order and accounting. Hence the crowded ERP market. Not enough systems focus on connecting people and departments across the entire value chain, inbound and outbound. Over-indexing on pan-supply chain digital connectivity and workflow collaboration can significantly impact business metrics and employee metrics. Open supply chain platforms deliver this one-two punch of business and cultural improvement through heightened workflow collaboration. Investments in such systems can be an effective anodyne for troubled supply chains while empowering successful businesses to hit escape velocity into exponential growth.
Referring to one of my earlier blog posts, Platforms and lightweight product suites are the future for supply chain tech stacks; a platform is inherently open, built to connect and integrate with other systems, team members, and data. Since supply chains are gargantuan and complex, they need to run on a coral reef or an ecosystem upon which other systems can reside and communicate.
Here are 14 ways connected and open supply chain platforms improve workflow, boost morale and remote job efficiency, and reduce costs:
- Automate and digitize manual functions reducing overhead by over 25%
The quickest time to value from digitizing the supply chain comes from eliminating the need for team members to devote time to tedious, repetitive administrative and manual tasks. Digitizing supply chains – contrary to perception – can be a quick accomplishment even for large companies. With effective and simple user interfaces and armed with a login, every participant can assume their digital identity and work off their digital avatars almost instantly. On average companies, post-investment, see a 25% reduction in costs of teams. These savings come from reallocating team members to more strategic roles, increased responsibility ownership, and eliminating redundant positions.
For example, when our company Suuchi Inc. ran a services business (which has since been sunset), we became early customers of our Communication & Collaboration product under the Suuchi GRID product suite umbrella. We quickly saw manual tasks reduced and replaced by digital, automated functions. We were able to reallocate team members’ time to more strategic tasks and saw the span of customers handled by each success manager increase 250%+.
2. Access all documents across the value chain in one place
Jumping on and off ERPs for essential documents can be the bane of supply chain practitioners’ work life. With connected wrappers across the entire digital length of the value chain, all forms, types, and sizes of files from design documents to bill of materials to customs documents are available in one place. Not only does this minimize employee aggravation, but it also saves time and money and improves information security.
3, Measure and improve collaboration across all departments
One of the many advantages of having all employees, partners, agents, suppliers, and customers operate off a single communication platform is that inter-department and company to customer communication and collaboration can now be tracked and measured. What are the peak times of collaboration across departments? What are the main topics that drive positive and negative sentiment? How much communication happens amongst previously digitally disconnected participants like tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers? Once communication starts to be monitored and studied, there is now actionable data for improvement efforts. 100% of companies that track this data see a positive correlation between increased digital communication and increased revenue and customer satisfaction.
4. Connect all supply chain participants, including raw material suppliers upstream, but also delivery and logistics partners downstream
The value chain collaborators extend far beyond just a company’s employees. A comprehensive list of types of participants would include amongst other groups employees, contractors, consultants, agents, tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 through tier n suppliers, other raw material suppliers, manufacturers and factories, logistics and 3PL operators, warehouses, DCs, customs brokers, freight operators, customers, etc. The list is truly endless. No typical supply chain is any less than complex, massive, layered, and unique. With traditional ERP systems, over 95% of participants do not have a seat at the digital table. That is a massive percentage of the population left out, which creates havoc for workflow management and supply chain collaboration. Simple and connected supply chain platforms empower and connect all supply chain participants no matter the location, skillset, or digital interface of choice for logging in.
5. Improve speed to market significantly
With one digital forum for all information to be exchanged across the supply chain, information exchange speed increases significantly. Additionally, errors and ambiguities reduce, and the product is delivered to market much faster. Improvements in the speed of delivery to customers have a direct impact on improved revenue and reduced costs.
6. Forecast and prevent downstream impact from timely upstream information
With all participants and points of workflow connected, upstream data and people can talk to downstream data and people in real-time. Shifts and shocks upstream can be integrated into immediate damage control downstream. Most significantly, as data collects across this linked chain, decision-makers have better forecasts to allow for actionable insights at every point of the supply chain. Better data is a better measurement. Better measurement leads to improvement
7. Communicate with anyone, anywhere across your supply chain
Gone are the days of silos or snooty corners of only elites with access to software. Open and linked platforms allow for democratized digital communication and workflow. A designer can talk to factories: what is the impact of this design change to my production costing? A sales representative can talk to the freight forwarder: when can I expect this shipment at my customer’s door? It can be tremendously empowering and liberating for each participant to access every other participant along the workflow.
8. Improve culture: everyone has a digital identity and seat at the digital table
Following from the earlier point, empowerment leads to a better culture. Not often are supply chain platforms spoken about in the same sentence as culture improvement missions. This connection, I believe, should be looked at more closely. Higher-quality collaboration, and open doors in the digital supply chain world, gives everyone one version of the truth. This one version makes everyone equal and equally important. Happier and more energized employees, happier and more energized suppliers and partners. Improvements in culture, I think, is the most hard-hitting ROI impact from an open and connected supply chain platform.
9. Keep up with changing consumer demand and fluctuating buying behaviors
Of the previously disconnected participant groups, the customers’ group is exciting when evaluating gains through linking. Most length of supply chain definitions end at shipping and freight and seldom include connectivity to customers and related communication. In establishing that link and extending workflow to customers, demand and supply are far better in sync. Changing consumer demand and fluctuating buying behaviors are amongst some of the biggest challenges companies tackle. Expanding data gathering to customers’ profiles and giving customers a seat at the same table improves transparency, customer happiness, provides a better handle of what the customer wants, and a better ability to execute to changing customer needs.
10. Reduce the cost of compliance, and reduce corruption, pilferage, and bribes
We see that companies lose up to 10% of revenue from our data due to a combination of drops in and/or inability to monitor supplier compliance, from theft, corruption, unauthorized commissions, and from flagrant bribes that are especially frequent and commonplace in some countries. Once all transactions without exception are conducted on the digital platform, the resulting pan-digital identity and workflow pretty much eliminate overnight any instance of or temptation of wrongdoing. Less blatant acts of crimes like older compliance certificates or poorly executed labor laws are now also better tracked, and weak compliance is prevented once all suppliers have a digital profile.
11. Track monetary exchanges and every dollar transacted across the supply chain
Following from (10) above, it is similarly prudent to conduct all monetary transactions on the digital platform. For now, transactions are more secure and faster. Secondly, businesses can tie payments to milestones and performance more efficiently. Finally, with payments data linked to other data sets, critical insights can be gleaned on who and what dollars were spent on and which supplier and product were most profitable.
12. Reduce time to develop and introduce new products to market
The part of the workflow that involves the most iteration and requires intense collaboration is new product development and introduction. Systematizing asset creation and tracking, file management, and all forms of collaboration in one place can help companies develop new products faster and help push a higher quantity of new products into the market in the same time frame.
13. Reduce the cost of additional systems
In 90% of cases where new technology or software is invested into for the supply chain tech stack, further discovery revealed that most of the new system’s functionality was available in the existing systems. The decision-maker was not aware of these features since he/she was not aware of the other systems’ use, or the current systems were too clunky and cumbersome to serve the purpose. When systems exist and operate in silos, they cost a lot more than just the cost of purchasing the systems. There is continued money burnt on managing these beasts, and the more systems that are invested into, the more complicated and unwieldy the tech stack becomes. An open platform integrates into existing workflows and systems and replaces the functionality of and eliminates legacy systems too old to be of functional service. This saves huge dollars for companies with respect to the cost of other systems and the dollars required to maintain myriad systems.
14. Attract and retain better supply chain talent
A smart and well-researched investment in a next-gen supply chain platform does more than improve business metrics and workflow. It shows your employees that you are forward-looking and care about innovation, transparency, connectedness, and employee collaboration. These kinds of investments reflect your value system and that you walk the talk, in turn, helping you hire and retain the best supply chain talent.