Digitally Transform Your Supply Chain: 4 Software Requirements to Enable Innovation

Nov 20, 2020
11 Min Read
Woman in reflective gear speaks on walkie talkie while holding mobile tablet device, while standing in an industrial shipping yard.

You may feel far removed from the digital transformation efforts spearheaded by your company’s IT department, with projects that span months, if not years, and that don’t clearly relate to your day-to-day responsibilitiesBut the truth is, digital transformation is essential to supply chain now more than ever before.  

According to a recent report by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, 91% of the 527 global executives surveyed said that their organization altered their operating model due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a whopping 33% going as far as to describe these changes as “significant..  This means that companies can no longer rely on traditional transformation initiatives siloed in single departments to support new ways of operating. To allow for adaptability in the face of uncertainty, these efforts must span every corner of the business – supply chain included.  

Along with operating models, business priorities have also shifted in the last 8 months to reflect thneed for operational agility. 53% of survey respondents said that improving business continuity and resiliency is a primary business goal since the pandemic outbreak, marking a 33%-point change from prior.  

This sentiment rings true for supply chain leaders especially. When coronavirus lockdowns forced businesses to halt operations, people panicked and stocked up on essential goods like toilet paper and canned goods. Supermarket shelves were left bare as suppliers struggled to meet demands. This disaster changed the way society operates and, in the process, uncovered weaknesses in our supply chains. This means that digital transformation projects, traditionally owned by IT, have expanded to leaders from across the business  supply chain included  to make the goals of business continuity and resiliency achievable 

Taking Digital Transformation to Your Supply Chain 

Leading companies – those who have rated their digital transformation strategies as being “very effective” both before and after the outbreak – have handled this change in priority by continuing to embrace a dual-track digital transformation strategy. This approach is unique in that it combines transformation at the enterprise-level with rapid-cycle innovation — the modernization of processes and workflows across business departments to achieve quick-wins. 

Your skillset is far different from those who lead traditional digital transformation initiatives in IT, but with a dual-track approach to transformation, this difference becomes your company’s hidden superpower. In fact, your contribution is nothing short of essential for the longevity of your digital transformation success. Your expertise in the processes that sit in and around your supply chain makes you an invaluable contributor to innovation and a strategic partner to IT, allowing change to permeate across departments and for innovation to become a permanent fixture in your operations.  

 With the right tools, supply chain leaders have the unique ability to enable complete operational agility across their supply chain. This means that your business will be agile enough to rapidly shift production in response to any unforeseen change and have the resiliency to continue production even amidst uncertainty.   

Supply Chain Management Software Requirements for Risk Reduction and Rapid-Cycle Innovation 

In its current state, your supply chain likely relies on a full tech-stack to ensure operation. With digital transformation comes the opportunity to upgrade the functionality of these tools to enable rapid-cycle innovation, so employees working in supply chain have the ability to rapidly modernize the workflows and processes they rely on every day.  

When looking for software tools to achieve rapid-cycle innovation, make sure they allow for the following capabilities: 

1. Connectivity between the systems you rely on 

Your supply chain consists of hundreds of processes, many of them unique to your business. As a result of the sheer complexity of your operations, your supply chain likely relies on a full tech-stack to keep production moving. Remove any one of these systems and your quality control, on-time delivery, and customer satisfaction can take a significant hit.  

Having software that connects these disparate systems is the final additional to your tech-stack that your supply chain needs. Software that integrates your ERP and other legacy systems provides a single source of truth for all information relevant to your supply chain management. This allows you to have full visibility into processes that might span multiple systems and identify errors or inefficiencies at their source. 

 2. Real-time visibility into data 

Traditional legacy and ERP systems used for supply chains management can make pulling data feel like pulling teeth. And by the time this information is finally extracted, it may already be outdated, making it hard to act on any of the insights gathered. Even more, traditional supply chain management software tends to pull only high-level reports, which often overlook the essential details that can affect your company’s next steps.  

To enable rapid-cycle innovation and achieve operational agility, you need full visibility into data surrounding managing suppliers, inventory, logistics, quality tracking and moreThis means your software solution must allow for your teams to build custom dashboards that fit your unique needs, so you leverage real-time insights to inform your decision making. Anything less and your operations will suffer from delayed time to action, or worse, making the wrong decision due to inaccurate information.

3. Easy automation without software developer oversight 

With a traditional software development framework, modernizing even a simple business process can take months, if not years, of collaboration between highly skilled IT developers and you, the process expert. This method of innovation is time-consuming and costly, and not conducive to businesses who need to implement changes on the fly.  

Tools like low-code application development allows people outside of IT to leverage their unique skillset to innovate within their realm of expertise. This means that supply chain leaders can build applications that automate manual processes in a matter of weeks or even days, without having to write a single line of code. What’s more, many of these tools make the programs you build easily iterative, so they can change with your needs and scale alongside your business.  

By automating the tasks that previously relied on hours of manual labor to complete, you can supercharge your supply chain to move faster than ever before and reinvest time saved into even more rapid-cycle innovation initiatives.  

4. Advanced governance capabilities 

The goal of dual-track transformation is to foster a relationship where the business can innovate alongside IT – not in spite of IT. This means ensuring that all departments and teams are aligned on company-wide priorities and are approaching innovation under the same framework. This means that enterprise-grade governance, compliance, and data-security capabilities – a top concern for IT teams – must be a requirement for any software tool used throughout the business.  

For those outside of IT, including teams in supply chain, navigating the ins-and-outs of governance and security standards is nothing short of intimidating. And for very valid reasons, those in IT worry that relinquishing too much control to people in the business is a governance nightmare waiting to happen. These concerns alone are enough to hold back an entire organization from enabling rapid-cycle innovation. 

That being said, advanced governance capabilities and enterprise-ready security are requirements that cannot be overlooked for any software used for innovation. This allows IT and leadership to maintain ultimate control over which users have access to what information and ensures that any sensitive information remains complaint with industry standard. This gives both business and IT teams the peace of mind necessary to innovate freely.  

Browse the Quick Base App Exchange for customizable sample applications that can help bring digital transformation to your supply chain.
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