"Getting the right products into customers' hands at right time is critical to business success and the only way to do that is through supply chain integration," says Montgomery, vice president-information technology at Kenco Group, a third-party logistics provider.
Integrating in a way that provides a seamless customer experience cannot be achieved in a one-off manner, Montgomery says. "You need a meta data layer that provides a consistent, standardized template for integrating all of the different supply chain systems," she says. "Having that middle layer allows you to pull everything in from all those different systems and standardize data across the supply chain."
Kenco provides this service for its customers in house. Montgomery notes that the company's IT group was formed more than 15 years ago and has a significant amount of expertise dealing with challenges particular to the 3PL environment. "If you think about all the different supply chain systems out there, from order management to ERP to warehouse management to transportation management, and then consider that, as a 3PL, we are looking at integrating all of those, not just for one customer but for hundreds of customers, and that we have to complete that integration quickly so our customers can compete in today's marketplace, you can see the size of the challenge."
The first step to this kind of data integration is to make sure the source data is clean and accurate, Montgomery says. While ensuring clean data always has been a problem, she says it is becoming more so as the volume of data explodes. "Today we have a lot of unstructured data from email and social media. Harvesting that information can be enormously valuable to the organization, but there is so much data it can be overwhelming. Picking out the critical pieces and then having the engineering mindset to analyze that data and use it to drive the business forward is extremely challenging."
Getting this right eventually will enable companies to employ predictive analytics instead of always looking back and basing decisions on what already has happened, she says. "Instead, companies will be able to get critical data in sooner and to start making strategic decisions on what is going to happen," she says. "As a 3PL, we believe our future lies in being able to supply predictive analytics around the supply chain that will help our customers achieve better revenue and faster response time."
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