You might never read about it in the headlines, but in reality, some of the most exciting developments in 21st-century tech have come about due to the streamlining of data flows between formerly incompatible systems.
Popular and futuristic tech in the retail sector, such as virtual/augmented reality devices, cloud-based app ecosystems, additive manufacturing in 3D printing and nano-miniaturization for IoT, have all been made possible by upgraded data flows, requiring less human data entry and cleaner data overall.
Greater connectivity, tighter integration between software systems, and more accurate data management in coordinating transportation have all set the foundation for these advances. Now here's a closer look at trends developing trends within retail's digital supply chain, indicating where we're headed next and the best pathway to get there.
Just as physical supply chains are going through a massive digital transformation process, digital supply chains are upgrading the way they handle data. As populations shift to concentrate in urban environments and incomes rise all over the world, the demand for more products and services is already feeling the effects of intensified demand. At the same time, the workforce in the developed world is shrinking as populations age and larger percentages of workers pursue entrepreneurial lifestyles. The answer to the growing labor shortage lies in the intelligent deployment of automation. In the years ahead, the ability to automate wisely will change from a competitive advantage into a basic business survival skill.
At the same time, consumers are living more of their lives online, with their shopping behaviors spread out across multiple devices. That's the main reason investment in omnichannel retail has skyrocketed as consumers move effortlessly across channels, preferencing suppliers that offer more buying options. Consumers will increasingly demand greater personalization and customization, straining the capacity of inventories. They're also losing tolerance for delivery delays and are growing accustomed to same-day deliveries, where there is little room for error.
Back in the present day, here are some essential statistics on exactly how automation in the supply chain is helping companies to do more with less:
• In a survey by MIT and PwC, 60% of business leaders agreed that automation to align partners is the single most important factor in achieving advanced capabilities. Researchers identified four levels of capability maturity, with the top level characterized by flexibility in adapting to dynamic markets and turbulent economic conditions. Automation that streamlines data exchanges within the digital supply chain between manufacturers and retailers has proven to reduce labor costs, eliminate common errors, and accelerate time to market.
• Deloitte found that 79% of companies with high-performing supply chains were able to achieve revenue growth far greater than their peers. These brands were able to bring their online inventories to market faster at lower costs while taking a larger market share, so they quickly gained greater influence within their sectors. Three out of four of these brands relied on supply chain optimization software.
• Ernst and Young found that the approach to data management can make or break an enterprise due to the volume and velocity of data today. Their survey revealed that 54% of data collected today ends up becoming "dark data," where the contents are unknown and unusable. This just leads to noise in the channel and wrong conclusions.
No matter where your company is in the digital supply chain, from manufacturing to retail, the single most critical point in the process is presenting the customer with the best possible shopping data at the point of purchase. It doesn't matter how amazing the products are if inventory numbers and item descriptions don't appear quickly and correctly in front of the end customer. It's not just about getting to market faster-it's about getting to market faster with the right information on product prices, options, specifications, etc.
That's why the ongoing time sink of adding, adjusting and maintaining inventory data is so costly yet fundamental to the success of the business. Adding automation at that bottleneck will increase productive capacity, speed up workflows, reduce labor costs, and eliminate countless instances of human error in transferring data between systems.
This concept was first explored in the Theory of Constraints, popularized by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his book "The Goal." Goldratt showed that by increasing productive capacity at bottlenecks, then adjusting the entire line to accommodate this new production speed, you can massively increase the number of goods you can bring to market at your highest quality standard--yet still get there before your competitors. Companies can move past their peers by devoting resources to eliminating friction at points such as where product data must be transferred between incompatible software systems.
It's not as easy as it sounds, or everyone would be doing it. What it takes to be successful is a team of specialists with the experience in transforming data and connecting up disparate systems. Using customized APIs, companies have reduced their time spent on manual data management by up to 40%. That impacts profitability by lowering labor costs, getting accurate product information in front of customers faster and removing costly errors from the equation.
Automation in the digital supply chain has completely reshaped our world over the past decade alone. It's hard to imagine what's possible in the decade to come, but there's no doubt that more efficient data entry and digital supply chain automation will be the framework that brings it all to life in the years ahead.