Warehousing and Store Fulfillment Disruptions

In a series of blog articles, the Product/Solution Marketing team explores innovative solutions to guard against supply chain disruptions. The following are insights gained from my discussion with Rizwan Butt, Blue Yonder Senior Director of Product Management, during a recent LinkedIn Live.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the important role that logistics plays in the supply chain. Our logistics colleagues work very hard to ensure production processes have the inbound materials, move the output products and materials, and deliver to end consumers to make our lives easier. There are new opportunities for warehousing and fulfillment operations to support logistics professionals while speeding up processing time to address the rise in customer expectations.

Opportunities Amidst Disruptions

Terence: In your interaction with customers, what are the hot topics in warehousing and fulfillment?

Rizwan: For customers, it’s not just about the speed, it’s about simplicity, time to value equation, security, scalability. All of these are the core principles, as our customers move to models where their facilities and the distribution centers get closer and closer to the end consumers. This is the major trend that we are seeing. We are trying to do our part to highlight not just the value drivers for our customers, but also to make sure that we build out the systems that would best support our customers as well.

Terence: So is customer centricity the key theme for manufacturers and retailers?

Rizwan: Yes, this is another big trend. Consumer habits are evolving as a whole. Our customers in turn want to get closer and closer to those end consumers. As a result, the new fulfillment sites that they are setting up, the profiles of those sites, as well as the systems that they need to get in place to solve are different now. This brings about new and unique challenges as well.

Terence: Are there some key items that retailers and manufacturers engaged in direct-to-consumer models are missing in the journey to adapt to micro-fulfillment?

Rizwan: We see this from different perspectives. We traditionally have been focused on the Levels 3 to 5 of complexity when it comes to Gartner’s level of complexity. And now we are seeing the need that shifts into Levels 1 and 2.

We are noticing more customers coming to us for the missing links for the growth and profitability that they want to achieve. We explain to these customers that growth and profitability are not mutually exclusive; you can have a model for growth that helps achieve profitability and vice versa.

Terence: Customer have a lot of current systems in their organization. In the battleground of micro-fulfillment or hyperlocal fulfillment, there are new requirements and new customer preferences. What does the new system landscape look like?

Rizwan: That is a great point again, because we have to find a way to bring all of these values together. And because of the way our traditional systems have been built, you can address one, two or a few of these at a single point in time. But if you go back to the original values that I started with — those pillars of speed, simplicity, security, scalability — you can add on some of the newer ones like sustainability and resiliency. All of these principles require systems that keep an eye on them, and that is a lot of eyes.

If you add these all up, this is where interconnected systems that are made up of microservices, along with a subsystem of artificial intelligence (AI) come into play. AI can keep an eye on top of all of these different metrics, KPIs and values to make sure that there is a seamless balance. We are able to solve the problems that are appropriate for a particular type or segment of customer rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that may have been the traditional norm.

Terence: Is it the Warehouse Management System that needs to be changed or is it the customer related systems?

Rizwan: There is no singular answer to that because we have noticed a variety of problems for a differentiated strategy. It is not just about saying that we have a system that can solve problems from A to Z. Rather, through the strategy that we’re applying and the philosophy we have in designing and architecting our solutions, we would like to allow and afford our customers the ability to make some choices with regards to where these systems go and how we can stitch together an experience that is appropriate to solve the problems that are relevant to our individual customers.

You can think of this in light of real examples where Level 1 and 2 can mean, in some cases, large DCs that we’re familiar with, but with simpler operations or a smaller-scale site that may be as big as a room. When you multiply that by a thousand that’s a lot of micro-fulfillment centers (MFC’s), and there are many of them spread out all over the place.

There are many individual use cases that we have solved that are varied and nuanced in terms of how they are delivered, as well as the interconnected components. Whether it is in the warehouse or fulfillment processes only or whether it involves transportation or last-mile delivery order management, all of these different components must be able to interact as a living, breathing organism in order to deliver the appropriate value for a particular type of problem. This is where we are putting our effort and our investment into to make sure that we have interoperable solutions that can be best suited to solve some of these diverse problems.

In Part 2, we will cover details of the innovative micro-fulfillment solutions and customer examples.

More Insights to Come

In subsequent blog posts in this series, we will explore innovations in micro-fulfillment, omni-channel commerce and fulfillment, control tower, supply chain planning, and Luminate® Platform!