As we all know, the pandemic was a wakeup call for modern supply chain infrastructure. Of course every supply chain had and still has weaknesses or areas that can be improved. But COVID-19 showed us what supply chain darwinism can look like first hand, and yes, only the strong (and flexible, agile, and resilient) survived – and thrived. It’s not all bad though. That’s because we live in a time where technology is available to help us overcome challenges and carry on during emergencies such as COVID-19.
In fact, most supply chain leaders had digital initiatives on their radar prior to the pandemic. But supply chain digitization is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. Those who have already figured out supply chain digitization have come out stronger. And once the dust has settled, those without a digital strategy will continue to struggle.
According to a recent Gartner report by Michelle Duerst, Ellen Eichhorn, and Jason Daigler, “The pandemic catalyzed many consumer goods organizations to invest in long-delayed digital initiatives, and galvanized consumer buying habits around convenience, driving new loyalties and more engagement.”
Here are the top 3 digital initiatives that COVID-19 created a huge need for:
1. Digital Platform Modernization
Let’s set the scene.
You walk into your local grocery store. It’s March 2020. You need toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer, only to walk in and find the shelves completely bare. We haven’t seen shortages like this since the 2008-2011 food crises, and even then shelves were rarely this empty.
So what went wrong?
In the beginning it was uncontrollable, as demand for these products skyrocketed almost over night. But why, nine months later, are we still suffering shortages?
Think about how demand is managed today. Goods are ordered by the batch-level, based on historical sales. As those sell, stock is replenished with inventory and more goods are ordered in the meantime. The main takeaway: past demand determines current supply. This system makes sense, but with the rapid consumerism we’ve seen and that has been reinforced by the pandemic, we need supply chains that respond in real-time. “The pandemic has shifted how people buy, from stockpiling necessities to buying more products online,” according to Gartner.*
This is why businesses are looking to supply chain digitization. By digitizing the supply chain, visibility throughout all operations increases. And more visibility means better collaboration, tracking, and speed-to-market. When shortages occur, instantly notify key stakeholders in your supply chain. Easily communicate with suppliers and manufacturers, clone specs, and place new orders. While demand in unprecedented times is hard to predict, supply chain digitization enables resiliency and control in our response.
2. Using Supply Chain Digitization to Enable Regulatory to Work With You, Not Against You
Regulations in the U.S. have been increasing for a while, more recently through FSMA, and exacerbated by COVID-19.
The pandemic showed us how quickly regulations can be put into place. And as we step into an increasingly digital world, regulatory compliance agencies will expect businesses to act just as fast. Increasing collaboration through digitization can help.
By digitizing activity in each department, stakeholders can better communicate and work together on initiatives like regulatory compliance or sustainability.
“Engage with R&D and regulatory teams to collaborate more effectively with the suppliers in the development, production, and distribution of more cost-effective, efficient, sustainable products,” Gartner writes. Take the burden off of compliance. Access all the data you need to prove or work towards compliance, rather than wasting time tracking down data from different departments. With supply chain digitization, you can stay on top of emerging regulations and produce healthier, safer products for your customers.
3. Ditching On-Prem Computing For Cloud Computing
Last but not least, Gartner recommends transitioning to cloud computing. According to the report, “By 2024, 75% of the top 20 global consumer goods companies will provide a digital experience to augment their physical product.”*
For a multitude of reasons, there’s still a bit of a black box around the cloud. Some businesses have heavily invested in on-premises (on-prem) computing and are afraid to move everything to the cloud. Others aren’t entirely sure what “the cloud” entails. But in today’s world, we’re traveling at hyperspeed. And businesses need a system that can do the same. When COVID initially happened, businesses without a digital supply chain quickly sunk to the bottom of the food chain. Those with limited supply chain digitization had to decide whether to invest and ramp up that presence, or hope they could make it with what they had.
The key difference between ability to scale digitization and lack thereof? Cloud computing. The main pain point with an on-prem computing systems is cost. If you want to scale, there’s a major cost attached. Performing any maintenance? Another major cost.
With money tight at most businesses due to COVID, those with on-prem systems and limited supply chain digitization needed to either invest in expansion, or make do (cue the extreme shortages).But for those with cloud computing, adjusting operations to accommodate a constantly changing world is easy.
Cloud computing simply means storing and accessing data or software over the internet instead of on your own computer’s hard drive. It’s highly secure, cost, effective, and easy to tailor to your businesses needs. Data warehouses are managed and maintained by cloud computing companies (like Amazon or Microsoft) and you simply pay to use the hardware inside to run your programs or access data.
Without getting into the nitty gritty of cloud computing, here are the key benefits when looking at cloud vs. on-prem.
- Less overhead cost. With cloud computing, you no longer have to maintain your own hardware, replace it when it breaks, or protect it from theft and other risks.
- Failure resistance. When an on-prem system is down, your hands are tied until it’s fixed. Cloud computing is constantly backing up and running on other instances to ensure you can automatically get back online.
- Scalability and flexibility. As aforementioned, you only pay for what you use. With on-prem systems, when you scale down and need less of your equipment, it sits unused, wasting money. Cloud computing enables you to easily buy more storage when you need it or instantly scale back when you don’t.
On-prem computing no longer meets the speed at which we do business. A pivotal aspect of successful supply chain digitization is cloud computing.
Ready to Start Digitizing Your Supply Chain?
Most companies have supply chain digitization on their radar, but have no idea where to start.
Check out this report from Gartner, a leading technology research firm, to learn why your specification data is the key to managing the challenges of packaging shortages and supply chain challenges. If you’d like to learn more about supply chain digitization, reach out to a member of the Specright team.
*Gartner Predicts 2021: Consumer Goods Manufacturers Compete in the Brave New World, November 2020