Using technology to stay ahead in the supply chain

Portrait of Matthew DownesThe retail landscape is changing, with consumer expectations of availability and convenience rising, along with online retail giants such as Amazon making their way into the grocery market, the industry is having to be innovative in the way it responds to meet these needs.

The different ways that consumers’ purchases are growing, whether it be through mobile apps, online or in store; the number of store formats and delivery mechanisms is increasing. The combination of increased channels and increasing expectations is adding more and more pressure onto the supply chain and at Fowler Welch, we are helping our customers combat this and stay ahead of their competition through use of technology and data.

Our IT Director, Matthew Downes discusses some of the ways in which we’ve adapted existing practices and brought in new ones in order to offer the best quality service to our customers:

Using information wisely

As pressure across the industry to meet increasing consumer demands continues to rise, one of the main ways we’ve been able to help our customers run the most efficient supply chain is through good use of information. Our specialised in-house IT team handles all kinds of data and translates it into whichever format our customers need, meaning we can offer complete transparency, giving our customers more control.

At a time where accountability is key to the success of the supply chain, the two systems we use, Manhattan Associates WMS and Pathfinder allow us to provide end-to-end traceability, offering customers peace of mind.

Real-time status is another piece of information that is becoming more sought after by customers and we use the Pathfinder system intensively to translate our customers’ data into a range of formats. This data can be tailored to suit any ERP system as it is translated by our team of analysts in order to fit into our customers’ systems.

Collaborating and recognising customer individuality

As the retail landscape is shifting, with retailers offering increasingly quick delivery, we are typically finding that orders are coming in with less lead time and companies want to hold less stock which means decisions need to be made faster.

This means the conventional method of a daily production plan as a forecast just won’t work. Mismatching between orders and production creates wastage which just can’t happen with such tight margins.

This means customers are keen to have personalised services so they can keep up-to-date with the status of their supply chain. Our investment in technology means we can offer customers notifications and detailed reports sent direct to the customer when their orders are dispatched, allowing them to adjust their plan accordingly.

A larger customer, for example, wanted to reduce their out of stock levels, so we listened to their needs and responded by providing them a series of snapshots at specific points in time to deliver an order profile of the stock we’d received and picked. They could then cross reference their own data and identify the ‘weak links’ at their end of the supply chain and work out which products weren’t getting to us on time and why that was.

Innovation

As consumer demands for faster delivery and greater choice continue to increase, it’s inevitable that we will see the pace of technological investment increase in order to meet these demands. We are actively working with Manhattan to implement the latest version of their WMS which will help us use technology to increase productivity, reduce administration and support this increasing pace.

The new system will include a number of technologically advanced aspects such as voice picking. This will allow the operator to speak to the system via a headset, allowing both hands to be free to stock check, which will increase stock management efficiency. Tablets will also be introduced, which will allow everything that would usually be done in the office to be accessible on the warehouse floor, offering our operators much more flexibility so they can work anywhere and essentially increasing warehouse productivity.