Supply chain automation is not just a passing trend; it is the future of business operations. With the supply chain software market expected to surpass a staggering valuation of over US $10.17 billion by 2025, and the Global Logistics Automation Market predicted to grow at an impressive CAGR of 12.4%, reaching $82.3 billion by 2026, the potential for transformative impact cannot be ignored.
Embracing automation empowers companies to streamline processes, boost efficiency, and cut costs. However, the abundance of available technologies, platforms, and partners poses a challenge when it comes to selecting the right ones to adopt.
Here are seven crucial steps to effectively evaluate new technologies, platforms, and partners, to enable the acceleration of your business goals through automation.
Step 1: Define your business goals
Defining your business goals is a critical starting point when evaluating supply chain automation technologies. By clarifying your objectives, you can effectively align your automation strategy with your overall business strategy.
Here are some key goals to consider:
- Cost reduction: For many businesses, minimizing operational expenses is top of mind. For example, you might aim to reduce labor costs by automating repetitive manual tasks, such as data entry or order processing. Implementing robotic process automation (RPA) can streamline these processes, freeing up resources and reducing human error.
- Efficiency improvement: If operational efficiency is a priority, consider technologies that optimize workflow and enhance productivity. For instance, an automated inventory management system with real-time visibility can streamline inventory replenishment, minimize stockouts, and improve order fulfillment accuracy.
- Revenue growth: To drive revenue, focus on technologies that drive sales and enhance customer experience. For example, implementing an automated order fulfillment system integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can improve order accuracy, shorten delivery times, and provide customers with real-time updates. This seamless experience can lead to repeat business and customer loyalty.
- Supply chain visibility: If your goal is to gain better visibility and control over your supply chain, consider technologies that provide end-to-end visibility and actionable insights. Advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms can process vast amounts of data from various sources, enabling you to identify patterns, optimize routes, and make informed decisions for demand forecasting and inventory management.
- Sustainability and environmental impact: In today’s environmentally conscious world, sustainability goals are increasingly important. Evaluate technologies that contribute to sustainability efforts, such as smart energy management systems that optimize energy usage in warehouses and distribution centers.
Step 2: Identify automation opportunities
The next step is to identify the areas of your supply chain that can benefit from automation. This could include order processing, inventory management, shipping and logistics, and more. By identifying these opportunities, you can determine which technologies and platforms are most suited to your needs.
Here are some examples of how to identify automation opportunities within your supply chain:
- Start by examining your existing supply chain processes from end to end. Look for tasks or workflows that are time-consuming, repetitive, error-prone, or resource-intensive. These areas are often prime candidates for automation.
- Speak with your teams involved in various supply chain functions by conducting interviews or holding workshops. They have valuable insights into the pain points and bottlenecks in their day-to-day operations that can help identify opportunities for automation.
- Dive into your supply chain data and performance metrics to identify areas where improvements can be made. Look for trends, inefficiencies, or bottlenecks that could be addressed through automation.
- Stay informed about the latest trends and best practices in supply chain automation. Research how other companies in your industry or similar industries have successfully implemented automation to achieve better results.
- Evaluate areas of your supply chain that involve compliance with industry or government regulations. These areas often require accurate documentation, traceability, or quality control measures and are key areas for automation.
- Understand the changing demands and expectations of your customers. Identify areas where automation can improve the customer experience, such as faster order processing, real-time order tracking, or personalized services.
Step 3: Research available technologies
Once you have identified your automation opportunities, it’s time to research the available technologies. Here’s a breakdown of the ideal process:
- Start by gaining a comprehensive understanding of the technology market landscape. This includes familiarizing yourself with concepts such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain.
- Look for case studies, success stories, and examples of how these technologies have been successfully applied in similar supply chain scenarios. This can provide valuable insights into the practical applications and potential benefits of each technology.
- Dive deeper into each technology to understand its capabilities, functionalities, and limitations. Then evaluate which technologies align with your identified automation opportunities and can effectively address your specific supply chain challenges.
- Evaluate how well the technologies can integrate with your existing IT infrastructure, software systems, and data sources. Additionally, assess the scalability and flexibility of the technologies to support your future growth and evolving needs.
- Research technology vendors and solution providers specializing in supply chain automation. Engage with vendor representatives to understand their offerings, product roadmaps, and support services.
Step 4: Evaluate potential partners
In addition to evaluating new technologies, you may also want to consider partnering with a company that specializes in supply chain automation. Here are a few key considerations when evaluating potential partners:
- Look for partners with a proven track record of industry experience in implementing supply chain automation solutions. Assess their familiarity with your specific industry and the challenges you face within your supply chain operations.
- Focus on partners who specialize in supply chain automation rather than general IT providers. Their specialized knowledge and experience will ensure a better understanding of your unique requirements, processes, and industry-specific regulations.
- Assess the partner’s past projects and success stories in supply chain automation. Request case studies or customer references to understand how they have helped organizations achieve their automation goals.
- Consider the partner’s ability to provide scalable solutions that can grow alongside your business. Automation needs may evolve over time, so it’s crucial to partner with a company that can accommodate future expansion and changing requirements.
- Evaluate the level of support and maintenance the partner offers post-implementation. Ensure they have a dedicated support team that can address any issues, provide timely assistance, and offer regular system updates and enhancements.
Step 5: Consider implementation costs
When evaluating new technologies and partners, it’s essential to consider implementation costs.
This could include the following:
- Software licenses
- Hardware requirements
- Implementation and professional services
- Training and change management
- Maintenance and support
Step 6: Determine ROI
Once you have identified potential technologies and partners and evaluated the costs involved, it’s time to determine the potential return on investment (ROI).
This could include:
- Cost savings
- Increase in operational efficiency
- Accuracy rates (order accuracy, inventory accuracy)
- Customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Revenue growth
Step 7: Pilot the technology
Finally, before fully committing to a new technology or partner, it’s essential to pilot the technology. This will help you determine whether the technology is a good fit for your business and whether it can deliver the expected ROI. Piloting the technology also allows you to identify any potential issues or challenges before fully implementing it.
In conclusion, evaluating new supply chain automation technologies, platforms, and partners can be a complex and challenging process. However, by following these seven steps, you can streamline the evaluation process and select the best solutions to accelerate your business goals through automation.