Technology & software

Smarter Supply Chains For An Unpredictable World

Experts predict that 2022 will be another record breaking year for e-commerce, despite the ongoing challenges with global supply chains sparked by the pandemic.

According to the Office for National Statistics, e-commerce accounted for 29.2% of all UK retail sales in 2021 and over half of UK consumers now purchase online more frequently than they did before the pandemic. With Statista predicting e-commerce sales in the UK will hit $199,873 million in 2022, retailers are scrambling to find ways to meet rising customer demands in the face of continuing supply chain issues.

Dealing with the persistent operational challenges thrown up by the likes of Covid-19 and Brexit has highlighted the importance of having highly resilient supply chains that can effectively respond to any event. According to recent research, out-of-stock scenarios resulted in lost sales for 46% of UK retailers last year, with a further 32% of retailers highlighting that supply chain issues increased overheads and diluted margins.

Supply Chains

In response, many retailers are now looking to overhaul their legacy supply chain IT in a bid to mitigate disruptions, enhance their stock inventory management capabilities and respond faster to key consumer trends. For these forward thinking organisations, the cloud promises to offer a fast path to accomplishing these key goals.

Transforming Supply Chains With The Cloud

The cloud opens up countless possibilities for online retailers looking to strengthen the manufacturing line and enable smarter supply chains that will deliver the real time visibility needed to serve customers better.

Enabling organisations to process huge volumes of data, from multiple sources across the supply chain, at lightning speed, the cloud makes it possible to access the vast computing resources needed to generate insights and respond to events in near real-time. But that’s not the only benefit.

The cloud also facilitates enhanced connectivity across the supply chain, making it easier for online retailers to connect with suppliers and manufacturers and overcome the information silos that get in the way of enhanced collaboration and agility. By leveraging the cloud’s elastic and scalable computing power, retailers will be able to transform how they undertake and manage a range of supply chain activities including forecasting, planning, logistics, and procurement.

Let’s take a look at three ways the cloud makes it easier to respond more effectively to unforeseen disruptions while optimising the customer experience.

1. Making Data Accessible

Data needs to be accessible for the supply chain to work with no disruptions and the cloud makes it possible for retailers to share formerly siloed data across internal teams and external partners without the need for complex integrations. By bridging this information gap, retailers will be able to better track their inventory and ensure it has the stock that was promised to customers. By working with the right cloud hosting provider, retailers will be able to leverage the cloud to enable and centralise this data integration and assure 24/7 access to data that is vital for enabling real-time visibility of supply chains including shipment records from suppliers, tracking information and more.

Information exchange with supply chain participants becomes easier and more streamlined, which in turn makes it easier to manage stock, improve forecasting and optimise fulfilment.

2. Enhancing Collaboration

The supply chain works best when there is end-to-end collaboration among all stakeholders, from manufacturers to retailers and consumers. By seeking out ways to securely and cost effectively move workloads between private and public cloud resources, online retailers will be able to seamlessly integrate data from all trading partners, regardless of geographical boundaries or variations in demand. This includes giving suppliers greater visibility into demand.

That’s because the complexities of today’s supply chains mean that online retailers now need to be able to react to real-world conditions in an instant. Utilising demand-driven real-time data makes it possible to respond quickly to changing customer demands and achieve improvements in on-time delivery from suppliers.

Cloud enables the seamless and real-time connectivity between supply chain participants that ensures everyone can collaborate fast on these demand signals and make proactive decisions ‘on the go’, initiating the set-up of automated rule-based decisions for basic tasks.

Leveraging this enhanced visibility and collaboration, brands will be able to engineer truly customer-centric supply chains, while boosting enhanced collaboration and trust between business partners. Plus, they’ll be able to undertake real-time reporting that includes tracking the status of each order from capture to fulfilment, making this information available to customers while capturing real-time information on returns that makes it easier to optimise inventories and costs.

3. Dealing With Disruption

Fostering an excellent online shopping experience depends on a retailer’s ability to deliver products in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, unexpected events can lead to a delay in shipment or manufacturing times.

In the past 18 months, UK online retailers have had to deal with a number of supply chain disruptions that have been caused by a variety of issues including driver shortages in logistics partners, the availability of raw materials in manufacturing, and a looming energy crisis.

By injecting their supply chains with cloud-powered intelligence, online retailers will be able to embark on continuous intelligent planning strategies. By using AI to turn real-time data into actionable insights that make it easier to predict and respond to potential disruptions, long term forecasting decisions can be fine-tuned and supply chains made more adaptable to avoid potential loss.

Armed with this decision support, they’ll be able to react speedily to disruptions, including demand and supply signals and swiftly repurpose organisational assets in the last mile to ensure supplies always meet changing demands. In other words, with the right cloud solution in place, supply chain platforms can help retailers and their supply chain partners take in critical information like shipment delays, manufacturing stoppages or inclement weather conditions to determine the next best actions that will resolve the issue or reasonably get around it.

Finally, integrated demand management is a must have for online retailers that need to accurately forecast demand to avoid carrying wasteful and costly surplus stock. That means using AI to accurately anticipate customer needs, preferences and purchasing intent to ensure they are able to overcome any capacity constraints experienced by their manufacturing and logistics partners.

By Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK