By Poornima Apte
Any retailer who must liquidate inventory or any original equipment manufacturer (OEM) who has had to battle the loss in manufacturing uptime from malfunctions on the shop floor understands the inefficiencies tucked into traditional supply chains. Manufacturers lean on market forecasts to design, source and make products. They leverage a sales and distribution network to deliver the goods to the right place at the right time and hope for the best.
The intelligent supply chain, however, upends the old way of doing business by centering all operations on one important currency: data. The intelligent supply chain draws on business intelligence in real time, which in turn delivers efficiencies at every node in the supply chain: from design, production, sales and beyond. No more bullwhip effects as sagging inefficiencies in the traditional supply chain threaten to balloon over time.
The intelligent supply chain is possible because of the confluence of a variety of factors: the dramatic rise in computing efficiency at low cost (according to Deloitte analysis, computing power increased by an annual 52% average in the decade between 1992-2002); the rise of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) sensors which harness data from new sources and technologies such as artificial intelligence which can process all that data to deliver predictive analytics in real time. Equally important, the intelligent supply chain is transparent, breaking down silos between various branches of a company, who can now go granular to an unprecedented level of detail: the supplies store A receives, for example, will be based on local market conditions, different from store B.
How the intelligent supply chain delivers
Think of every node in the traditional supply chain: forecast, design or develop, source, make and deliver. The intelligent supply chain, anchored in data, has the potential to revolutionize each and every link.
The digitization of industrial processes means that a part used in production will sport a QR code that can be scanned, automatically triggering inventory management software. The intelligent supply chain keeps an eye on counts and tweak replenishment schedules with suppliers. Forecast for product demand can also fluctuate according to market conditions. The grocery superchain Tesco, for example, works with real-time weather forecasts to stock ice cream and other perishables according to the weather.
Design and develop
The intelligent supply chain delivers the ability to develop customer-centric production processes. Real-time market demand for specialty products can drive product creation and delivery, accommodating a variety of customer requests.
Vendors and suppliers can lean one of the intelligent supply chain’s biggest strengths, its transparency, to proactively schedule deliveries of raw materials and manufacture of finished goods. Such intelligence is especially useful in complex production cycles such as electronics or automotive manufacturing where production in one factory might depend on deliveries from OEMs.
Make or manufacture
Predictive analytics during manufacturing can proactively forecast instrument malfunctions and trigger repair work orders and parts replacement, keeping the supply chain wrinkle-free and decreasing manufacturing downtime.
IoT sensors in warehouses can detect conditions such as humidity or heat that might adversely affect goods and alert professionals accordingly. Transparency in the intelligent supply chain also leads to better customer service: customer service reps can now track the product through all stages in the supply chain and better update customers about status of orders. Even better, automatic alerts can deliver real-time information about the product, delivering a more seamless and personalized customer service experience.
The intelligent supply chain, powered by Big Data, does raise concerns about security when information is shared with third parties and about intellectual property. But today’s cloud technologies for the storing and sharing of information are robust enough to solve these challenges.
Powered by data at its core, the intelligent supply chain has the ability to make businesses more agile, reacting to market conditions with newfound resilience. Given that the B2B IoT is forecast to be a $300 billion annual market by 2020, the adoption of the intelligent supply chain will increasingly make compelling business sense, especially if companies want to retain their competitive niche.