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What exactly is a digital supply chain?
As more industries embrace the possibilities afforded by technological solutions, a common phrase cropping up is that of the “digital supply chain.” As with all new, fancy terminology, the digital supply chain holds an allure of the unknown, its very makeup promising success through innovation. But for many within the logistics industry — especially those whose processes have remained tried and true for decades — the unknown can also feel overwhelming, especially when it remains unexplained. What is this “digital supply chain,” and how does it stand to affect your business?
Let’s demystify the digital supply chain, so we can better understand the vast benefits it holds for businesses across the freight industry — just like yours.
What is a digital supply chain?
In terms of the logistics industry, a digital supply chain is the implementation of various electronic technologies to manage and/or distribute goods and services. These technologies typically enhance or altogether replace physical processes that are used within that supply chain. Typically, you’ll see the following technologies in place within a digital supply chain:
- Analytics, which provide instant performance metrics and predictive strategy outlines.
- Machine learning optimization algorithms.
- The Internet of Things (IoT), which allows physical devices to connect and “speak” with one another on a digital platform.
- Automation solutions.
A digital supply chain brings information and processes out of individual silos and distributes that information for better visibility and faster execution. A digital supply chain can include practically every aspect of a business, from manufacturing to marketing to customer support. And for many of these aspects, it’s quick and easy to implement. Companies across the logistics sector offer customized algorithms and digital solutions that start working with the click of a button. And some — as we’ll see later — handle all of this for you, leaving you with more time to concentrate on what you know and love: Your business.
Benefits of a digital supply chain
Just as with nearly every industry that has replaced physical processes with technological ones, moving your supply chain to digital platforms has a myriad of advantages. Freight companies stand to gain the following benefits from going digital:
- Better ability to predict and budget for shipping costs with the help of accurate consumer trend forecasts.
- Automated BoL and other administrative processes.
- Shipment tracking down to the pallet-level during transit and delivery, which makes it easier to communicate with customers about unexpected delays.
Broadly, here are the biggest ways going digital elevates the supply chain to its peak performance.
Increased visibility and communication
When you transition to a digital supply chain, one centralized database holds all of your information and gives access to everyone in the chain. This means that all participants, no matter their specific functions or where they all fall within the hierarchy, have the same information available to them at all times. So, for example, when your warehouse is able to see — in real time — exactly how many units of product are being produced by your supplier and when those items are heading out the door, they know exactly how much warehouse space to clear up and the deadline by which to do it. Your retailers can share their exact inventory with you, so you know when a resupply needs to be scheduled. And whether you ship to retailers or directly to customers, your clients receive accurate tracking information, so they know precisely when their goods will arrive.
Blockchain has emerged as a leading technology that’s helping shippers, suppliers, and retailers in this area. Blockchain is a digital ledger that stores information independently of any single part of the supply chain, allowing each participant to trace any aspect of their product’s life cycle. It helps businesses track everything from parts to payments without one entity holding all the cards, so to speak.
Improved efficiency and agility
A digital supply chain replaces manual and physical processes — which typically take more time and cost more money — with digital tools that can execute processes instantly or remove labor from the equation altogether. Storing customer information in the cloud allows you to schedule automatic shipments, saving hugely in time and manual labor. Utilizing robotics in your manufacturing and warehousing can remove workers from highly dangerous tasks and shift them to focus on higher-leverage outcomes. Machine learning and artificial intelligence allow you to identify and act on patterns in your business, such as common roadblocks that you otherwise may not have been able to solve for.
Having instant feedback on any given part of the supply chain also provides the ability to flex and pivot on a moment’s notice. Companies get to make proactive decisions — either to mitigate road bumps or quickly act on emerging opportunities. If, for example, an issue occurs at the manufacturer of a specific product part, which then delays production of an entire batch of goods, the supplier can react immediately: They can utilize alternative partners for the part, if possible; they can reschedule shipment on the spot to avoid late pickup fees, and they can quickly inform clients of the delay and remedy the situation to retain business and keep satisfaction high. All of this is possible because information is shared cross-functionally in real time, giving everyone autonomy to make decisions in the best interests of the supply chain’s health as a whole.
Companies are also able to utilize data trends to better anticipate customer needs and capitalize on opportunities. If a product is flying off the shelves at an unexpected rate, a digital supply chain can alert suppliers and shippers to that information. Not only can the company then create more of that product to satisfy immediate demand, but it can also leverage tangible data to inform the overall business strategy — which products they should focus on in the near and long terms, how the shipping budget needs to change, and more.
Preparing your company to go digital
There are some clearly emerging digital supply chain trends within the industry that you should be ready to embrace — especially if partners within your own supply chain are already doing so. As mentioned, blockchain, machine learning, and predictive analytics are major boons to businesses throughout the freight industry. It’s important, however, to thoroughly scope your company’s needs and where it stands to benefit from digital solutions. If, for example, you handmake your products wholly and sell only locally, blockchain may not be as necessary of a technology for you as it would be for a global company that’s tracking parts all over the world.
No matter your industry or business size, one huge advantage you can give yourself is partnering with an expert freight management company that has fully embraced the digital supply chain, so that you can focus on other aspects of your business. Enter: Flock Freight. Flock Freight’s platform is a cutting-edge freight marketplace that can customize digital solutions to your business needs. Our first-in-class proprietary algorithm optimizes your freight to the perfect route, integrating our systems with yours to provide maximum visibility throughout transit. We use cloud-based computing through our FlockDirect service to pool your shipment and move it via shared truckload service, sending it directly to its drop-off location (at competitive LTL rates), for damage-free and on-time delivery.
Experts in digital supply chain solutions are standing by to help elevate your shipping game. Get started today and experience the Flock difference.