Modern-day supply chains are increasingly becoming connected in real time, both within and beyond company walls. At the same time, Wheeler says, customers are demanding new ways of having their orders fulfilled. The ability to execute in this multichannel environment is becoming a significant competitive advantage, as companies strive to excel in service, growth and cost control.
Distribution centers have been relatively slow to adopt new technology. Today, however, "there's a lot of change in the warehouse space," says Wheeler. DCs are embracing radio frequency identification, giving them control over goods at the item level. On the hardware side, a whole new category of mobile devices, including touch tablets, are facilitating that effort.
"Applications are moving from traditional terminal emulation to embrace richer interfaces," Wheeler says.
Also changing is companies' investment focus. Traditionally it has centered on picking technology within the warehouse. With the growth of mobility systems, businesses are turning to the inbound side of their supply chains, making a stronger effort to improve supplier management.
New devices are generating huge amounts of valuable data, but not all companies are making full use of it. The challenge for decision-support systems, says Wheeler, is to tightly link distribution operations with outside entities such as third-party logistics providers.
Systems integration poses yet another challenge, although "it's much less of an issue than in the past," Wheeler says. "We have taken steps to pre-load [software] to terminal emulation." Browser-based systems are helping to tie client devices to internal warehouse-control software.
"Flawless fulfillment is achievable," says Wheeler.
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, inventory control, warehouse management systems, voice recognition systems, inventory management, logistics management, supply chain systems, WMS
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