The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the impetus for many organizations to accelerate plans for new technologies and processes. Adapting is the name of the game today, and through a combination of automation, creativity, and tech investments, we’ve seen these innovations drive operational efficiencies and unique customer experiences that boost survival chances and growth prospects.
It’s easy for businesses to fall victim to the natural reaction to trim the fat and eliminate nonessential costs. For example, retailers have restructured debt, reconfigured supply-chain processes, and recategorized their omnichannel priorities. However, the hybrid solution of supply-chain automation (using electronic data interchange) and application integration (using application programming interfaces) has enabled organizations to easily and economically automate workflows between enterprises and down to the department level. This translates into increased efficiency, savings, and revenue.
Here are just a few examples of how today’s “API economy” empowers companies to fully harness the power of applications, marketplaces, integrations, and ecosystems:
For organizations looking not only to adapt and survive but to grow and scale business operations in today’s omnichannel world, let’s examine some of these emerging trends more deeply.
Automation as a driver toward greater operational efficiency. From small businesses to the Fortune 500, organizations are looking for ways to use efficiency as a momentum builder. For example, a U.S. apparel manufacturer recently sought to reduce manual processes from eight working hours to just minutes by automating the sharing of inventory levels with its customers. The manufacturer was able to further speed up the process by integrating orders directly into its shipping software, eliminating the need to manually re-key the shipment scheduling information. This automation provided the framework to implement IoT devices in the warehouse, to further reduce labor costs and use those working hours for initiatives that bolster business.
Robotics and IoT making their way to the forefront. With the pandemic requiring social distancing, investing in robotics has become an appealing and cost-effective alternative to using smaller employee shifts. “Just-in-time” concepts from the auto industry, for example, include material-handling mechanisms (e.g., conveyor systems) that capture an order signal, which is then relayed to process controllers to pick and pack physical goods from the inventory in the warehouse. By combining EDI fulfillment and API-integrated robotics and logistics, manufacturers can reach surprisingly heightened levels of speed that far outweigh any initial investment concerns that can impede decision-making.
Once-mandated technology becoming a voluntary growth enabler. Onboarding a big-box retailer as a new trading partner can be a dream come true for an up-and-coming manufacturing brand, and with it comes significant revenue streams. But the windfall also brings the need for new supply-chain and EDI compliance rules. Often, retailers drive compliance requirements for such tasks as ordering, invoicing, ASNs and shipping.
When it comes to collaboration and partnership, the large retailer has always dictated the use of EDI. But in today’s environment, manufacturers tend to be more likely to voluntarily expand the use of these automated systems — even with trading partners that don’t require it. The omnichannel world lends itself to this natural trend of depending on EDI more consistently throughout a supplier’s network of partners.
In-store intrigue as a tactic for brick-and-mortars. In 2019, in-store sales were 90% of the average retailer’s revenue. However, with e-commerce having entrenched itself as an omnichannel stalwart to complement brick-and-mortar sales, retailers are learning that they must be entertainers as well, providing consumers with experiences alongside their products.
For example, a luxury-brand purse seller might feature a leather stitcher in its stores. That experience could never be duplicated online. The elements of touch, smell, craftsmanship, and casual conversation would be missing entirely. The same would be true for candy stores giving out free samples of their latest delights, and bicycle shops that can provide a slew of custom bike seat choices to try out before purchasing. Just as the VHS tape didn’t kill movie theatres (because going to the cinema is just as much about the experience as it is about the movie itself), brick-and-mortars differentiate themselves by playing off the nostalgia of a memorable moment.
Despite the aforementioned, humans are still the most valuable asset for a supplier. After all, only humans can collaborate using unstructured data, and employ time-tested logic to detect anomalies and opportunities for improvement. Powerful tools for automation in today’s environment, where adaptation is vital, enable organizations to reallocate their most important resource — humans — to more strategic, revenue-generating projects.
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