Hindsight Is 2020: Top 5 Takeaways for Supply Chain Leaders


Coming into this year, no one could have predicted the pandemic and unprecedented disruption to the supply chain – and essentially to all businesses in one way or another. That said, many have been proclaiming the critical necessity for end-to-end visibility, agility, and flexibility for years.

From learning to adapt to investigating the foundational technological tools that allow brands and logistics service providers to mitigate risk and disruption and provide customers with excellent service under even the most trying circumstances – here are our key takeaways for the year.


  1. Supply Chain Visibility Is Not Enough…Here’s What Is

 We began the year with a thought piece entitled: Why Is Supply Chain Visibility Gaining Momentum? That question was posed in January, just before COVID swept in like a tidal wave to whop us with the answer. Businesses commonly operate on an international scale, where political, economic, and environmental uncertainty are the norm. Mitigating risk and maintaining even a basic level of supply chain resiliency is foolhardy if you have blind spots.

When it comes to recovering revenues and supply chain resilience, the visibility ERPs and WMSs and TMSs provide are, on their own, insufficient. Digitizing data and having visibility dashboards are a start, but to really control costs and boost agility and adaptability, you need to break down those system silos. Resiliency is gained from expanding visibility end-to-end through a holistic, unifying platform that allows you to act on what you see immediately from within the application. Consider how the brain works in instances of uncertainty: the eyes provide you with information about the environment (visibility) – but without the ability to act on that via direct communication with the rest of your body (to duck, to run, to hide, to grab an object nearby), that visibility is meaningless. Similarly, without the brain acting as a holistic communication center, your ability to adapt and react quickly is greatly compromised.

So, What Does Control Look Like in the Era of Disruption? In a practical sense, it means connecting the disparate systems throughout your multi-enterprise supply chain business network – no matter their level of maturity – so you can quickly act on what you see. It also means gaining command over your finances. Disruption can take a toll on revenues as companies scramble to regroup. With insight and control over spend at every touchpoint across the end-to-end supply chain you have the power to substantially minimize the effects of that impact.


  1. When It Comes to Omni-Channel Fulfillment & Returns Management: Unify, Converge, Optimize

Stay at home orders meant more people ordering online – and, unfortunately, returning a lot of what they ordered (sometimes as much as 40%!). While everyone has their own unique digitization journey, businesses that put off digitizing and automating omni-channel order fulfillment and returns management technology found themselves woefully unprepared.

In both our thought pieces on the topic: Mastering Omni-Channel Order Fulfillment – It’s Easier Than You Think and Transform Your Business With a Holistic Approach to Reverse Logistics three technology strategies ring consistent for immediate value and success: unification, convergence, and optimization.

Unify: Both omni-channel order fulfillment and returns management deal with the supply chain complexity of collaborating within a multi-party network, across multiple disparate systems and channels, throughout multiple legs and modes of an order journey. A unifying technology strategy will oversee and coordinate between these diverse parties and modes, across all inventory and order flows, to create a consistent and reliable customer experience –whether the order is outbound or on its way back for return, repair, or reselling.

Converge: To truly have operational and financial control over customer order fulfillment and return flows, your unified technology platform must also converge operational planning and execution. Support for end-to-end processes ensures you source, route, and fulfill an order on-time and in-full as cost-effectively and sustainably as possible. The same is true when coordinating between multiple parties on a return for processing, repair, or recycling.

Optimize: Inbound, outbound, or reverse, a platform that continuously optimizes the supply chain for each and every order flow ensures not only consistency and reliability for utmost customer satisfaction, but also allows for cost control at every touch point. This capability is especially critical during times of disruption, when brands need to adapt to changing conditions and dynamically change partners, reroute, or optimally re-plan during execution if issues arise.


  1. This Is Not a Storm to Weather

In the article This Is Not a Storm to Weather, supply chain expert, Bryce Boothby talks about the importance of understanding and acclimating to the “new normal.” The pandemic has been disruptive in many unprecedented ways, but disruption itself is certainly not new or a one-off. And once this ‘storm’ has passed, any business that has not yet invested in technology that builds resilience and better manages risk and disruption is leaving itself open to vulnerability.

Because the supply chain is an ecosystem, the best place to start is with multi-enterprise businesses network technology. Digitizing and centralizing data streamlines collaboration between partners, while automation enables better speed and accuracy.

A flexible, configurable technology platform is also ideal for boosting supply chain resiliency. It allows you easily expand your business network and dynamically partner with alternate suppliers and carriers when the need arises. In his thought piece, Time for Plan B: How Supply Chains Can Avoid the Mad Scramble of Disruption, Bryce points to a lack of a universal solution as part of the reason why so many companies were caught without a ‘Plan B’ in the midst of the pandemic. A universal solution allows for fast and easy partner integration – without cumbersome customization, proprietary pay walls, or middleware connectors – and enables a host of vital capabilities, ranging from visibility and omni-channel order and logistics management to returns management.


  1. The Customer Is King – Even During a Pandemic

 Growing customer demands for fast, easy, and inexpensive fulfillment isn’t easy in the best of times; in the worst of times, demands have only intensified. For those who ask: What Value Is Customer Loyalty? It’s likely more valuable than you think (i.e., 2X revenue growth for loyalty leaders and a 15% cost advantage).

Factoring customer loyalty into a digital transformation paints a fuller picture of ROI. Account for technology that builds trust and aids OTIF delivery at the lowest possible cost. Otherwise known as the ‘perfect order,’ we further explored 5 Major Misconceptions About Perfect Order Fulfillment. During the pandemic, brands felt pressured to stand out by offering the fastest or cheapest fulfillment options. But faster and cheaper don’t necessarily make an order perfect. Perfect order fulfillment is about giving customers choices (some prefer to pay for more sustainable fulfillment options even if they take longer!) Perfect also means profitable, so have a system in place that can optimize when exceptions arise, such as by isolating a rush order.

The Seamless Shift to a Customer-Centric Supply Chain is not only easier and faster to achieve than ever before – it’s necessary! A fast-track orchestration platform can help you to really stand out and remain reliable and consistent under any condition.


  1. Digital Transformations Are Not About ‘Boiling the Ocean’ – They Can Be Fast and Immediately Beneficial!

 The pandemic has highlighted the critical need for greater visibility and collaboration across networks, as well as omni-channel fulfillment and returns management, as mentioned earlier. It can seem like a staggering, tall order for companies considering digital transformations.

Digital transformations of this caliber can be as simple as investing in a single, unified cloud platform for supply chain orchestration. Such a technology platform will connect disparate systems across your network for end-to-end insight into all inventory and order flows. You’ll also get in-app control to make fast and strategic corrections when exceptions arise. A unified platform for supply chain orchestration is an end-to-end solution – its capabilities range from visibility and control to order and logistics management to returns management – so your business can scale as needed without having to rip and replace.

Especially in times of crisis when an emergency solution is needed – ideally one that is future-proof – a unified platform offers exceptionally fast time-to-value. For more information on how to make the case for your digital transformation and how to implement a fast and immediately beneficial solution, we recommend checking out The Hard Economics of Justifying a Supply Chain Digital Transformation and How to Get the Quickest Time-to-Value for Your Digital Transformation.

Reflecting on this past year, hindsight is 2020. The silver lining to all challenges is what you learn from them; difficult times bring setbacks, but they also inspire innovation and growth. Uncertainty and disruptions are inevitable, but technology enabling visibility, flexibility, and agility ensures you can immediately adapt and minimize impact. 2020 had its obstacles (to say the least), but for those willing to, it may will also be the catalyst for brands and service providers to become stronger and more resilient than ever before.