Someone recently mentioned that “resiliency” seems to be one of my favorite words. As words go, it’s not a bad one to have as your favorite.
The ability to adapt, to quickly recover from disruption, to be elastic; it’s fitting for what we all need as we live through our current COVID-19 reality.
As supply chain and logistics practitioners, our reality was already challenging. The shift in market power from the seller to the consumer had firmly taken hold. Consumer fulfillment was no longer just a “retail issue,” as industry lines were being blurred and many product suppliers were driving direct-to-customer channels.
COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges we were already facing as supply chains. And, like me, many consumers are engaging in “me-centric” retail engagement, avoiding in-person shopping as much as possible – adding another supply chain challenge.
On the positive, supply chain technology innovation continues not only unabated but at an accelerated rate. The availability of disparate data and highly-scalable ingestion engines, the advent of performant and elastic public clouds, the wider adoption of open application program interfaces (APIs), and the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques are all creating new ways to solve problems and establish resilient supply chains.
So, where does that leave us?
How do we bring these concepts together to drive the appropriate level of creative response? How do we make our logistics chains more resilient?
As logistics practitioners, we must change our mindset to one that I like to call “unified logistics.” This new mindset requires three significant changes in behavior:
- Thinking about logistics holistically
- Leveraging visibility to unify processes
- Embracing an open technology platform
While these concepts will help us adapt our planning practices for the post-COVID-19 reality, it will not be easy to fully implement these behavioral changes across the logistics functions. The following is a discussion of some of the challenges we face as we adopt this new mindset.
The Need to Think Holistically
From a very young age, we are taught to break complex problems down into simpler components. The world of supply chain is no different. As logistics practitioners, we have all “grown-up” with a set of accepted disciplines like forecasting, replenishment, allocation, storage, and shipping. And we apply problem-solving techniques and technology solutions to improve the efficiency of each distinct area.
The challenge that has emerged over time, however, is that these functional areas, both culturally and technologically, have become siloed. In an environment that now demands increasing levels of resiliency, silos do not work and only magnify the stresses on today’s supply chains.
The first step is thinking about the supply chain as not just a holistic entity, but as one entirely centered on the consumer. It does not matter where we sit in the value chain. Whether we are retailers, manufacturers, or logistics providers, we all need to put our collective energy toward serving the individual consumer. Having that mindset means paying attention to not only distinct functions and how they act as process subcomponents, but also to how these functions interrelate with one another as part of a holistic use case. Defining these use cases with an eye toward the core objective of customer centricity allows us to look past our functional biases and concentrate on a unified goal.
Unifying Processes via Increased Visibility
So we have a holistic view and we are focused on defining use cases centered on the customer, now what?
We still have all these supply chain processes and technology solutions that are seemingly disconnected. This is where visibility comes in.
By “visibility,” I do not just mean reports or alerts. And I certainly do not mean a collection of siloed data. Today’s supply chain reality demands that we think of visibility as gaining a holistic (continuing the theme) view of the entire supply chain, one that interconnects the disparate concepts of orders, inventory, and transportation. This broad, centralized view allows us to not only understand when or where disruption may occur but, more importantly, understand the impact of that disruption and how to best remediate it. We need to balance short-term functional gains with longer-term strategic issues that affect the whole supply chain, as well as overall service and profitability goals. At the risk of repetition, this means having a truly holistic or unified view.
Embracing an Open Technology Environment
In a world where our phones have become the hub of our daily lives, we seem to take for granted the technical characteristics that have made that a reality. One of the most critical characteristics is the notion of the application ecosystem. Think about the last app you downloaded, then think about the number of related apps it is already connected to. You are now connected to a technology ecosystem, and you did not have to lift a finger other than providing an authorization.
These seemingly unrelated apps now form a full set of capabilities ― a definable, personal use case ― with assumed connectivity and easy upgrades. A perfect example is your fitness tracking app that also connects to a range of physical devices ― such as scales, pedals, GPS, etc. ― and diet trackers, exercise diaries, and social media sites related to fitness.
Now consider the implications of applying that approach to the world of unified logistics. Instead of owning and managing a collection of independent applications that solve separate logistics problems, you would have an open platform. Purpose-driven applications like control towers, transportation software, warehouse solutions, and carrier trackers would now be interconnected with each other via a set of open APIs ― and able to solve a collection of cross-functional, customer-centric use cases.
An Unprecedented Approach, for Unprecedented Times
Success in a post-pandemic business landscape requires that we truly shed the shackles of our traditional siloed thinking and embrace a holistic, customer-centric view of our supply chains. We need to take command and control of our product flow through all supply and fulfillment channels, breaking down functional walls that impede our larger view. Finally, we need to embrace the rapidly expanding technology ecosystem to fully leverage the benefits of an open platform for ongoing logistics innovation. Unified logistics represents an approach to drive the imperative of resiliency for these unprecedented times.
For more information, visit Luminate Logistics.