Comment: A market of one - the potential of the personalised supply chain
Whilst talk of the death of the high street may be a little overblown, it does indicate the depth of the transformation that the retail industry is undergoing. While it's true that e-commerce has certain advantages over traditional brick-and-mortar, physical stores do have their own benefits, which aren't easily replicated by the likes of Amazon.com. And the truism remains that the two key assets of the traditional retailer are people and locations.
The trouble is, many retailers don't leverage these assets to maximise full potential, making it increasingly difficult to differentiate and compete. Take, for example, the US retailer Circuit City, which was known for having knowledgeable employees that understood the products they sold. When faced with competition from online stores, Circuit City made a serious lapse in judgement. Instead of accentuating its competitive advantage of store associates, it let them go and hired lower-cost, inexperienced staff.
However, where Circuit City did better was leveraging its locations. The electronics retailer was a pioneer for buy online, pick up in-store, an experience consumers loved — and still love today. But where Circuit City could have done even better would have been to ship online orders from its stores as well, taking advantage of each store being a mini warehouse. By the time Circuit City started down this path, it was too late.
The lesson is that modern customers want the flexibility to choose the way in which products are delivered. Sometimes cost is the driver, other times it may be speed or convenience. Nonetheless, the end goal is to keep customers happy while driving down costs. The key is to unlock the potential that every retailer has in its people and locations.
1. Ensure 360-degree visibility into the supply chain.
Today’s consumers shop their own way, at their own time. As such, retailers need the flexibility and real-time visibility to serve consumers, 24/7. One such way is full visibility into products, leveraging locations and inventory as warehouses and reducing out-of-stock items by fulfilling them from all locations. This sets the correct expectations with customers, while optimising shipping costs, delivery speed, labour costs and even the number of boxes shipped.
2. Choose the right fulfillment option.
For most retailers, there are now multiple fulfillment options, including distribution centers, stores and drop-shipping directly from vendors. Retailers must understand which fulfillment options meet the needs of both the buyer and the seller, in both B-to-C and B-to-B scenarios. Not to mention, choosing the right option is critical for companies that want to keep their costs down while still meeting ever-evolving customer expectations.
3. Always think customer service first.
The supply chain isn't perfect, but success lies in putting the visibility to work and anticipating potential problems and keeping customers informed along every step of the fulfillment process. This includes handling customer calls, flagging issues for intervention, and managing orders from beginning to end.
4. Perfect in-store execution to lower costs.
For retailers, leveraging store locations as warehouses helps reduce costs and increase customer service. Customers can buy online and then either pick up in-store or have it shipped from the store. By deploying functionality in the cloud, companies can get up and running quickly without having to worry about scaling for peak, upgrading software or managing backups.
In the simplest, and perhaps most cliché, terms, the customer is always right. Every decision, be it in adopting certain technologies, hiring certain employees or choosing a store location, should revolve around the wants and needs of the customer. And recognising that that customer – singular – is now a market of one.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”