Enabling future technology: Why digital transformation is more than a buzzword
Digital transformation is somewhat of a buzzword, but that doesn’t mean it’s a fad. The need to facilitate change in the supply chain isn’t going to diminish, if anything it is only going to grow as new and exciting technologies start to move into the mainstream.
This is fuelled by ever-increasing customer expectations, with end-users expecting shorter delivery times, constant progress updates and complete transparency throughout the product’s journey to delivery.
It is requiring supply chain executives to assess their legacy operations and consider how they need to change to incorporate emerging solutions, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain.
Besides a fundamental need to innovate, digital transformation is providing managers with the opportunity to use these technologies to reach new levels of operational effectiveness within their supply chain. They can drive efficiencies across the board, lower cost margins in the long-term and create a truly intelligent enterprise that can provide all parties with the information they need to make timely decisions.
As more logistics managers look to re-imagine their operation’s capabilities and improve delivery reliability, technologies such as machine learning and predictive analytics are becoming essential.
With these in place, companies will be better positioned to exploit advanced forecasting capabilities and to predict future behaviour so that they can make informed business decisions ahead of time.
This can be data internal to the company, which can be used to assess the amount of inventory required or when a piece of machinery is due to come to its end-of-life, as well as external data - such as weather variations, school holidays by region or fluctuations in products’ price indices.
All of which can help business leaders to make decisions which are beneficial to the company. It ensures no machinery is out-of-action and saves cost in the long-term by lessening the chance there will be a lack or surplus of stock in the inventory at any one time.
Technologies, such as artificial intelligence or robotic process automation (RPA), also come to the forefront when it comes to driving efficiencies.
These can be used to automate repetitive, manual tasks. Not only freeing up the time of your employees, which can then be shifted towards higher value work elsewhere, but also reducing risk of human error.
Within the warehouse system, robotics can then assist with the handling of materials, from receiving and unloading to packing and shipping. This technology is now even being leveraged into the transportation elements of the supply chain process, for example through autonomous trucks which carry stock from A to B.
Managing a vast supply chain with thousands of products and raw materials and dozens of organisations including suppliers, distributors and transportation companies, requires a huge amount of collaboration.
Greater visibility lets managers see problems ahead of time, however, and work with suppliers to deliver stock safely, within the timeframe promised. Connected devices are helping to deliver that oversight, enabling decision-makers to see that bigger picture in real-time.
With this information, companies can react to an emerging issue in the network, such as a disruption to a transport route in one area and redistribute resources accordingly - before it has a chance to have a knock-on effect further down the supply chain.
At the same time, emerging solutions, such as blockchain, also promise to improve trust within the supply chain and satisfy consumer expectations, especially when it comes to sustainability and social responsibility.
With supply chain networks being as complex as they are, a digital transformation journey that incorporates all these new solutions will not happen overnight. It will involve intricate integration with core transactional systems and an optimising of their digital core. A human-centred change management strategy will also be required to ensure each employee understands and maximises the potential of this technology.
It’s obviously an advantage to work with a partner experienced in delivering transformation projects, but it also helps to develop a step by step strategy that will allow you to leverage the technology on offer today, and ensure you are equipped with a foundational platform to embrace the solutions that emerge tomorrow.
Andy Bell is Chief Technology Officer at Edenhouse Solutions, a UK-based professional services company focused on maximising the potential of SAP solutions.
Grupo Espinosa: 70 years of constant evolution
Founded in 1952, Grupo Espinosa has been relentlessly supporting the publishing industry with producing more than 100 million copies every year – whether its books, magazines, catalogues or single-order custom prints. No project is big or small for Grupo Espinosa, as the facility can scale up on demand and their turnaround times are highly competitive. Grupo Espinosa works with on-demand digital press or offset press, in paperback with glued softcover binding, PUR softcover binding, stitched paperback binding, binder’s board, hardcover, saddle stitched, Spiral or Wire-O. Equipped with the experience needed for a product to leave the plant ready for distribution, Grupo Espinosa delivers anywhere inside or outside Mexico. Traditionally starting off as a black and white printing press, Grupo Espinosa has experienced transformation first hand – from colour to digital offset printing. Currently, Grupo Espinosa is also looking at making capital investments into audio books to match with the increasing demand.
So how did a seemingly local operation in Latin America become a world-renowned printing facility trusted by hundreds of clients? As Rogelio Tirado, CFO of Grupo Espinosa for the last six years says “It all comes down to our market experience and our dedication to quality”. With nearly 70 years behind them, and located in Mexico City, Grupo Espinosa has two major locations – one spanning 75,000 square metres and the other about 45,000 square metres. Both locations are controlled by a single ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system ensuring speed, consistency and quality of work. Tirado says this isn’t their only competitive advantage. He adds “Our competitive advantage is the relationship we have with customers and the trust they put in us with their intellectual property”. Speaking of trust, global publishing giant Macmillan Education exclusively partners with Grupo Espinosa for their Latin America operations, as part of Macmillan’s decentralized hub strategy. Having a facility that offered the full spectrum of service – from storing digital content to printing and distributing – was one of the major requirements for Macmillan, and Grupo Espinosa was recognized as the leading printing hub for providing this 360 infrastructure. Another factor that has led to success for Grupo Espinosa is the absolute focus on quality and time. The staff are committed to providing the best quality in the best possible time, without causing wastage of resources. Sustainability is a huge factor playing into Grupo Espinosa’s operations, and they’ve created a healthy environment with the sustainable use of paper and energy resources as well as keeping their employees – most of them associated with the organisation for over 10 years – happy. He adds, “In order to be truly successful, you need to be good to the environment, employees, suppliers, and your customers. But most importantly, you need to be sustainable, you need to have proper working conditions, pay proper salaries, proper prices for paper, source the paper from sustainable sources, pay your taxes, basically be a good global corporate citizen and that's probably one of the biggest achievements that we have.”