Supply Chain Digitization Experience

Published by Gabrielle Guerrini on

Supply Chain Digitization Experience​

The Assignment

Pre-COVID19, one of EVA Group APAC’s client mission was to assist a retail entity as IT Infrastructure specialists. The client was overhauling and implementing a warehouse management system. The objective was to retire / upgrade their obsolete warehouse components with a best of breed cloud-based implementation for their logistics hubs and regional distribution centers.

It involved business process re-engineering of existing workflows, frontend functional changes & backend integration, and evaluating new tools in the form of RF terminal scanners & mobile / desktop label printers. Most importantly, it required close cooperation of business units, warehouse management, information systems specialists (project management, systems development, network support) and software vendors (supply chain, systems integration). All working in tandem to realize / align to the business objectives of: 

   – Productivity improvement, moving away from manual into semi or fully automatic processes.
   – Improving speed and accuracy, especially on stock handling and capturing shipment data.
   – Preparing for a future of rapid expansion while reducing the element of risk.

A deeper introspection would see this initiative as also a form of business digital transformation. The supply chain digitization innovates and streamlines the end-to-end logistics process, from order forecasting to fulfillment. At its core, you have RF terminal scanners, client devices, server systems, and print servers interfacing via secured communications to an in-house developed application that resides on a SaaS cloud architecture, to cover the below key operational processes on inventory :

   – Inbound Transportation
   – Receiving & Put-away
   – Picking & Sorting
   – Inventory & Reporting
   – Packaging & Dispatch
   – Outbound Transportation

As with any digital transformation project, key elements to success include executive sponsorship, collaboration & communication, and detailed operational legwork that happen behind the scenes. With a steering committee comprising client business representatives & technical organizations, the system integrator, and the WMS vendor, the planning canvas started with a description of current state versus a desired future state, with a series of interim landscapes to get there. There were the agile project management phases of:

   – Current State Study
   – Requirements Gathering
   – Warehouse Layout Design
   – Business Process Re-engineering
   – Iterative Tech Design
   – Config, Build, Demo, Re-build
   – User Innovation Diffusion
   – User Training
   – Testing: Functional, Integration, UAT
   – Pilot & Go-Live
   – Heightened Early Support
   – Post-implementation Review

When it comes to revamping their traditional supply chain processes, companies have a range of digital enablement options. These options include the use of technologies like advanced analytics, augmented reality, big data, cloud applications, mobile applications, IoT, RFID, and Robotics.

There are vendors who are leaders in the field of integrating these digitization technologies with supply chain management. We decided to understand better the core offerings of one such vendor and share the observations.

There are also logistics warehouses that have successfully applied digitization initiatives into their supply chain process. We sought an opportunity to visit such a warehouse and report their digital innovations in action.

Supply Chain Management

Supply Chain Management digitization is coming through the usage of supply chain management platforms such as Blue Yonder solution.

Blue Yonder is a supply chain management platform providing supply chain management consultancy, manufacturing planning, retail planning and store operations. They provide a seamless end-to-end digital commerce experience.

They have a cloud native SaaS open architecture ecosystem, from years of innovation through organic and M&A technology transformations. Their LuminateTM Platform, leveraging industry-leading AI & ML capabilities, allows companies to better predict & shape demand, fulfill faster & more intelligently, and create superior customer experiences.

Their solution is extensible through code-free configuration and personalization done directly in the UI. Extensibility is enabled for businesses to configure unique or exception workflows, rename fields with in-house terminologies, construct tailored dashboards, and build modified reports.

The client’s current service delivery components were spread across multiple technologies, vendors, & support teams. They leveraged Blue Yonder’s hosted solution to provide a single vendor responsibility from hardware to software, security to integration, and disaster recoveries to performance guarantees.

The client also made use of Blue Yonder’s integration capabilities with known ERP systems like SAP, to support connectivity with their legacy / vendor / customer systems. They ensured a robust interface to their 3rd party modules that provide for warehouse control, transport management, and material handling equipment.

The digital supply chain technologies replaced the client’s traditional supply chain sectors, namely B2B interactions, complementing their labor capital, and the enablement of real-time physical asset-digital tracking convergence. Down-to-earth improvements and changes that stood out include : 

   – replacing their obsolete warehouse system
   – re-engineering the stock handling process
   – standardizing their ways of working to reduce lead times in the flow of a product
   – implementing automation in the warehouses, to move away from manual processes
   – improving shipment accuracy by capturing high quality master data at inbound and then flowing the information upstream
   – improving reporting functionality that can enable implementation of control measures

There are other providers within this space, namely vendors like Manhattan Associates and ToolsGroup. Manhattan Associates provides software solutions for clients to manage their supply chains, inventory, and omnichannel operations, while ToolsGroup provides planning solutions for demand forecasting, inventory optimization, and sales & operations. Clients also have the option of building in-house solutions with the support of technology providers like SAP and Oracle who provide enterprise application software and integrated application platform services. These choices in the marketplace provide a degree of flexibility for clients to evaluate and identify solutions that best address their unique supply chain management challenges.

Warehouse Management System

A warehouse visit would complement what was learned so far. We were able to attend a visit organized by the French Chamber of Commerce Singapore (FCCS) to Bolloré Logistics Blue Hub, a state-of-the art warehouse located in western Singapore. Bollore’s Head of Innovations, Fabien Tertois, played an excellent host and was kind enough to lead us on a tour of their high-tech facility.

Bolloré Logistics embarked on building a next generation warehouse in 2019. Over 500 days to construct, the 50,000 square meters building is focused on employee-centricity, innovation, and sustainability. The Blue Hub has a fully integrated automation solution to improve efficiency, productivity, and storage flexibility. It fuses IoT devices and smart robotics with advanced energy management systems.

We started our tour from B.Lab, a section in the building dedicated as an innovation & collaboration lab. We observed the automated multi-shuttle system that is part of an effort to optimize storage density and inventory rotation. We also viewed the 43-meter-tall Spiralveyor® conveyor, which is touted to be the tallest in Asia and comes with high energy savings. As we walked through the different sections of the warehouse, there is ample evidence of a very purpose-built facility with efficient space planning and well-connected workflow for inventory movement.

From a traditional mental image of how a warehouse would look and operate, we can see the combination of customer demands along with technology advancements have led to a makeover in warehouse capacity and capabilities, a revolution harnessing the best of practices.  The way forward is probably continuous improvement i.e. how will a WMS execute its tasks in the most optimal way with the least cost, leveraging the resources, equipment, and infrastructure at its disposal.

Conclusion

Just as how the internet has transformed business operations, companies are now at a similar juncture where an innovation turning point can trigger huge opportunities and redefine their industries.

Lessons learnt here include the notion that executing a digital supply chain strategy does not have to be a do-all or do-nothing scheme. It can/should start small, keeping value and momentum in mind, more so when the digital supply chain landscape is shifting and evolving. Key takeaway on the success factors for implementation, apart from support from the top and defining a digital strategy, is :

   – first, to acknowledge that digital supply chains required new competencies,
   – followed by a determination to invest in digital talent,
   – then, to keep an eye on the competitive landscape,
   – and finally, be willing to start small & fail fast.

Companies can also forge partnerships with partners like EVA Group to transform their businesses and operations, using some offers like :

   – RFP Management: starting from business analysis, to craft and run a fit-for-purpose RFP to down select the most appropriate solutions/vendors for the business, its context and strategy.
   – IT Project Management: how to drive the integration/migration of a solution into a client Information System taking all aspects (business to technical and PM Best Practices).
   – Digital Innovation: work with EVA Group Consulting services to define a vision of the future via a design thinking approach, while embracing all new technologies (Automation, AI/ML, Graphs, RPA, etc) and implement those digital solutions.

We see a decisive edge for companies adopting this path, more so in the current & post Covid19 era.

Acronyms glossary
AI: Artificial Intelligence
B2B: Business To Business
ERP: Enterprise Resource Planning
IoT: Internet of Things
M&A: Mergers & Acquisition
MHE: Material Handling Equipment
ML: Machine Learning
RF: Radio Frequency
RFID: Radio Frequency Identification
SaaS: Software-as-a-Service
UAT: User Acceptance Testing
UI: User Interface
VPN: Virtual Private Network
WCS: Warehouse Control System
WMS: Warehouse Management System

Additional References
JDA Software Special Edition Digital Supply Chain for dummies by Fred Baumann, Glen Ceniza, Serge Massicotte, Anand Medepalli, Kelly Thomas; Published by John Wiley & Sons 2017

Somasundaram ARUNACHALAM 

Senior IT Innovation Consultant,
EVA Group APAC

Categories: EVA NEWS