Waiting for drones to go mainstream? 5 ways to innovate your supply chain now

Start talking about ‘innovation’ and people immediately conjure images of self-driving cars, connected buildings and robotics. For the future of retail and e-commerce logistics, it’s drone deliveries that spark the most interest.

We love to imagine the convenience of ordering an item online and having a drone buzz by and drop it off at our doorstep a few minutes later. And that’s understandable – things are happening right here in Australia that prove this future is not far away.

Alphabet’s ‘Project Wing’ has been running drone delivery trials with Chemist Warehouse and Guzman y Gomez for residents in parts of NSW and ACT. A growing number of drone-focused startups are gaining traction and former chief of the US Federal Aviation Administration, now Macquarie Capital advisor, Michael Huerta recently said drone technology is more significant than the jet engine in terms of its ability to reshape the future

Unfortunately, neither the technology, retailers or regulators are yet in a position to make this vision a reality.

That doesn’t mean that businesses shouldn’t be taking steps to prepare for drone technology or other exciting advancements. But you must walk before you can run. Embracing bleeding-edge technology is only a small slice of what it means to be an innovative business. Innovation is about doing things differently; finding new ways to use information to exceed your customers’ expectations and unlock new growth opportunities.

For many businesses, the best place to start is the supply chain. Order fulfillment experiences can make or break your brand, creating either loyal brand advocates or one-time shoppers. Streamlining your supply chain will help you reduce costs and inefficiencies, drive growth and ensure you’re prepared to integrate technologies that will catapult your business to new heights.

So, what does it mean to have an innovative supply chain and how can it help prepare you for what’s next? Here are five factors to consider:

You need to be on the cloud

Moving to the cloud is the natural choice for any business managing, or preparing to manage a modern, digital supply chain. The cost advantages of a cloud solution – from decreased investment in software development to lower maintenance costs – are only part of the equation. Cloud-based ERP applications free businesses from costly hardware investments, automate time-consuming processes and bring advantages that were once only accessible by larger companies.

Many businesses know that simply ensuring inventory on the books matches what’s in your warehouses is cumbersome. With the right software, you can link inventory and vendors across multiple locations ensuring they are working together in unison. This enables a fully automated supply chain, from raw material purchase through to customer fulfillment and allows small businesses to compete against much bigger rivals.

Automate what you can right now

Small businesses need to do more with less. Minimising your hands-on involvement with supply chain processes – whether it’s purchasing or fulfilment or finance tracking – saves you valuable time and enables you to focus on more strategic priorities. Plus, it can reduce risk of inconsistencies and inaccuracies that often arise from manual processes.

Begin by looking for simple processes that require little human judgement. When store inventory levels are low, an automatic signal to suppliers should initiate restocking. If an e-commerce platform receives an order, it should be tracked from start to finish. With a single centralised cloud-based platform further automation becomes easier.

Make your data visual

Making sense of the numbers is often difficult. Putting it into context is even harder. Future-ready supply chains rely on business intelligence tools that offer clear visualisations of data. Look for solutions with customisable dashboards so that you always have clear, real-time metrics. These visualisations help you track problem areas in your supply and demand planning and alert specific users of required actions to close supply and demand gaps.

Visual, contextualised data is also key to engage partners and key stakeholders. With a single real-time view of finances, resources and performance, business leaders have the information needed to make insight-driven decisions. That’s the first step in identifying new trends and building the services your customers want most.

Embrace mobile solutions

Innovative businesses empower their teams to ‘go and do’ – using solutions that don’t tether them to the office or warehouse. Embracing mobile solutions can bring a new level of agility to all levels of your supply chain. For instance, a business may implement a mobile-enabled warehouse management system to improve fulfillment speed and accuracy. Other may choose to equip their sales reps with a product catalogue, real-time inventory data and mobile ordering on a tablet, so they can showcase and order products from a customer’s office.

All these solutions are possible when you begin to connect the dots across your organisation. Aggregate the individual gains from these changes and suddenly, you’ve made a massive transformation in business performance and profitability. That’s innovation.

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Graeme Burt
Graeme Burt is GM and Sales Leader, responsible for the direct sales business across the region. In this role, Graeme is responsible to drive increased value for NetSuite prospects and customers, build a presence in new markets and strengthen its existing sales teams. Graeme's most recent role was GM, Growth and Emerging Business, Asia Pacific and Japan. Graeme joined NetSuite in 2015, after a stint as country manager at BMC Software. Graeme's past experience includes director of commercial sales for the northern region at Salesforce.com and senior sales director at Oracle

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