Using Supply Chain Automation to Overcome Operational Challenges

Supply Chain Automation To Overcome Operational Challenges

The modern supply chain continues to undergo a radical transformation in the wake of record-breaking growth. According to John Koetsier of Forbes magazine, e-commerce volumes have expanded the same volume of six years worth of traditional operations within a period of mere months due to the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, more supply chain leaders are turning to technology to find ways to overcome operational challenges, such as limited resources, and deliver on the needs of higher customer expectations.

What Are the Top Operational Challenges in Today’s Supply Chain?

The top operational challenges of today’s supply chain reflect the state of the economy. As uncertainty permeated the market, today’s consumers grew concerned and began to spend more time shopping online, reducing the risk to their health by staying home. In turn, the rapid growth of e-commerce has generated a significant drain on available supply chain resources. For organizations that were already faced with challenges in improving a sustainable and efficient supply chain at the onset of the year, reported by SupplyChainDigital, the growth is a major hurdle. Consider this: the top three challenges in the supply chain of 2020 included limited visibility and the expansion of e-commerce — and that was pre-COVID. Now, additional strains have grown evident, including the need to move more freight, create contactless interactions between drivers and staff, and maintaining a heightened degree of safety and social distancing for all personnel.

Supply Chain Automation Streamlines Workflows

Supply chain automation streamlines workflows by transforming redundant processes with machine-guided algorithms and data-sharing functions to reduce the number of clicks and legwork that go into transportation management. For example, supply chain automation can help users build and funnel orders into pre-configured systems and workflows. Instead of waiting on the next shoe to fall, modern supply chain leaders can take a proactive stance, considering more about the condition of the market, how freight rates may evolve, planning for the lag time between reordering and arrival of freight, and more. Furthermore, automation within the supply chain naturally creates new opportunities to manage inventory and leverage self-optimizing systems to maintain inventory levels for just-in-time fulfillment, lowering carrying costs and avoiding stock-outs in tandem.

Additional Opportunities to Leverage Automation in the Supply Chain

The opportunities to apply supply chain automation are not limited solely to inventory management and routing orders. Consider these other ways supply chain automation may be applied to maximize supply chain value and overcome disruptions:
  • Automation within payment processing and auditing functions can hasten the order to cash cycle and improve cash flow for the business.
  • Increased use of automated functions within the shipment tracking process will naturally create better customer service levels, reducing the amount of status inquiries and upset customers.
  • Automation in picking and/or packing processes can go a long way in reducing the risk of error or damage in such processes and ensuring customers receive the right product, at the right time, at the right price, and without delay.
  • Automation carries further opportunities for improvement within the supply chain by allowing for the seamless flow of information across supply chain channels, including the use of brick-and-mortar stores as fulfillment centers and distribution centers, especially for online orders.
  • Leveraging the power of automation further reduces confusion within managing the dock itself, contributing to better opportunities to manage the congestion and traffic flow within the yard and promoting a more efficient supply chain with less workload for managers and staff.
  • Improved sustainability by ensuring each transaction and process reduces waste and maximizes utilization of assets without incurring non-essential harm to the environment, such as eliminating empty backhauls with automated load matching and load sharing opportunities.

Overcome Obstacles With Comprehensive Supply Chain Automation

Operational challenges are typical within any supply chain. Even with the best-laid plans, weaknesses may develop, and disruption is always around the corner. It’s time for organizations to future-proof their supply chains by using supply chain automation wherever possible and proactively managing by exception.

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John Martin
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