As one of the Australia project managers involved in the deployment Manhattan Associates supply chain solutions, I have been in the trenches with a key 3PL client as they evolve through a strategic transformation in the way they manage the supply chains of their customers. Beginning with MA's transport planning and execution solution, the goal is to make advances in digitizing internal, operational processes within a single solution, integrate with key customers through a single interface layer, leverage powerful reporting and analysis tools to enhance regular and periodic decision-making and present a scalable, holistic logistics solution to the marketplace.
Part of this effort involves the formation and deployment of a mobility solution that acts as part of the client's nerve center from which a portion of the information that drives supply chain intelligence is increased, aggregated and transformed for reporting and analysis.
In an extremely fragmented transport industry, it is only natural that many mobile solutions will find a niche with various players, large and small. A company focused on small and frequent parcel delivery in dense urban environments will approach a mobility solution in different ways than a company dedicated to infrequent, long-distance, large volume deliveries. As with any software, it is important to approach the selection of a mobility solution with an idea of the scale, scope, and overall complexity of the transportation network in question. Once the solution is deployed, what and how much information do you want to flow into the business? What services are actually required by customers versus what simply sounds sexy?
Due to the speed with which the mobile device market is innovating and introducing new products and technologies, it is important to choose a vendor that not only understands and fits your strategic vision but that also has a strategic vision of its own for the market. Providers of transport planning and execution solutions will need to know as much about how various mobility solutions integrate with their products and the mobility solutions vendors likewise.
Once in place, the mobility solution should provide, for example, the following positives, amongst others, when integrated with a transport planning and execution solution:
- Enhanced supply chain visibility internally and for customers
- Increased granularity of supply chain information and intelligence
- Improved customer service levels
- Advancements in employee productivity
- More flexibility and rapidity in executing supply chain decisions
One example of a supply chain mobility solutions provider in the Australia-New Zealand market that is experiencing success is Blackbay, capable of deploying mobility solutions for a wide range of needs, but already proven with clients operating at high transaction volumes, such as Australia Post and New Zealand Post.
A recent article about Wal-Mart (h/t Dr. Barnett), titled "Wal-Mart Tightens Slack on Supply Chain," highlights one aspect of the supply chain where mobility solutions could help respond quickly to new demands--meeting time window requirements:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has joined the ranks of retailers that impose penalties on suppliers that fail to deliver products within the company’s prescribed four-day window. Under the new policy that goes into effect Feb. 1, suppliers whose products arrive at regional distribution centers before or after that period face a 3% penalty based on the cost of the goods.
Previously, the company requested delivery within a four-day window but gave suppliers no incentive to meet the schedule, said Dan Fogleman, a Wal-Mart spokesman. "This is a common practice among national retailers and really in line with charges assessed by our closest competitors," he said.
Suppliers now receive a must-arrive-by date when orders are placed and will be in compliance with the retailer’s new policy if the goods arrive on that day or the three previous days. A first-time miss will not trigger the penalty, but subsequent misses will, Fogleman said.
If products arrive at distribution centers earlier than expected, that drives up storage costs, he said. And if they arrive late, the products are not available for customers. In short, on-time delivery means lower prices for customers, he said. "One of the fundamental advantages we’ve maintained throughout our history is the efficiency in our supply chain."
Properly integrating a mobility solution with transport planning and execution will allow in-house and external logistics providers, such as those servicing Wal-Mart's suppliers, to closely track time window performance and to more quickly react in real-time to exception events in the field. Over time, these exceptions can be gradually reduced and possibly eliminated once trends and patterns are detected via supply chain intelligence tools.
The increasing overlap and cross-functionality of these transport network tools means that solutions providers must be on the ball in terms of vendor partnerships and research so as to deploy a truly integrated, if not wholly-owned, transport management solution for their clients.