DIGITALISATION FOR S.M.E.s

Look at the smart warehouses of Amazon, Ocado or Alibaba, and they are clearly a far cry from the average SME, where inventory is still managed on a spreadsheet and you are more likely to see a human worker than a robot. Whilst digitalisation has become the norm amongst the bigger players in warehousing and logistics, its full impact has yet to be felt in smaller firms.

The perceived cost associated with new tech is one barrier to adoption, as is the time and expertise required to implement and operate it. I am sure there are also plenty of MDs and warehouse managers who are (understandably) questioning whether radically overhauling operations is really worth it when the current processes they have in place seem to work perfectly well.

It is important to remember, of course, that the robotics seen in large facilities are just one small part of the digital revolution sweeping the industry today.

For SMEs in particular, this revolution is not about transforming their traditional warehouses into something that looks like it belongs in a sci-fi film. Some of the biggest game-changers are the systems replacing everyday manual processes – which, in turn, drive efficiency and productivity and, crucially, provide full stock traceability at every stage in the supply chain.

We are all acutely aware of the cost (and reputational) implications if a damaged or contaminated batch arrives with a customer. Whether theirs is a single- or multi-site operation, managers must be able to prove that goods out are of the quality expected and compliant with industry standards and legislation. Should an issue arise further along the supply chain they need a clear audit trail to show that their business is not liable for it.

Anybody working in the sector knows that problems can, and do, occur. The key is to identify them quickly and prevent them from escalating. When time is of the essence, and questions are being asked, the last thing staff members should be doing is trawling through folders and filing cabinets looking for crucial documents.

Practices like these are also unlikely to go down well with customers who have already invested in systems that provide full traceability. If health and safety is at risk, suppliers need to take appropriate action urgently, normally by informing all customers and recalling the product.

The commercial damage of such recalls is one of the reasons why bigger companies are increasingly choosing suppliers whose traceability processes match their own. In a complex global supply chain, where businesses are co-dependent, all product information must be readily available at all times.

Warehouse management systems (WMS) meet this demand for transparency and accuracy because personnel can record stock information (such as batch and serial numbers) and track pallets in real time until they leave the site, with details of who approved them and when.

Even if a firm experiences relatively few issues, and certainly no major ones, having systems in place to demonstrate traceability is one of the most effective ways of building customer confidence.

As well as helping to retain current clients, investment in the right tech can also help secure future contracts. It means the smallest businesses can impress a big customer, and outshine their competitors, with their professional approach to quality and compliance. Simply being able to respond to questions in a timely manner, thanks to full visibility across the warehouse, is a sign that a company is reliable and willing to uphold the highest standards.

Unlike the expensive, bespoke software that firms might once have used (or avoided) in previous years, the latest systems are developed for anyone to use, continually updated to ensure high functionality and security and can be implemented quickly. Many can also be integrated with customers’ existing systems, helping to speed up tasks and improve partnership working.

The emergence of major distribution centres shows the extent to which tech is shaping the industry, and smaller firms must adapt accordingly. Digitalisation is a journey that any successful warehouse operator will go through, although investment naturally depends on the nature and scope of their work. What is certain, though, is that nobody can afford to ignore the changes happening at the top, particularly where traceability is concerned.

Lucy Pamment,
Head of Product (Supply Chain Solutions), Access Group

For more information visit
www.theaccessgroup.com/warehouse-management.  

Look at the smart warehouses of Amazon, Ocado or Alibaba, and they are clearly a far cry from the average SME, where inventory is still managed on a spreadsheet and you are more likely to see a human worker than a robot. Whilst digitalisation has become the norm amongst the bigger players in warehousing and logistics, its full impact has yet to be felt in smaller firms.

The perceived cost associated with new tech is one barrier to adoption, as is the time and expertise required to implement and operate it. I am sure there are also plenty of MDs and warehouse managers who are (understandably) questioning whether radically overhauling operations is really worth it when the current processes they have in place seem to work perfectly well.

It is important to remember, of course, that the robotics seen in large facilities are just one small part of the digital revolution sweeping the industry today.

For SMEs in particular, this revolution is not about transforming their traditional warehouses into something that looks like it belongs in a sci-fi film. Some of the biggest game-changers are the systems replacing everyday manual processes – which, in turn, drive efficiency and productivity and, crucially, provide full stock traceability at every stage in the supply chain.

We are all acutely aware of the cost (and reputational) implications if a damaged or contaminated batch arrives with a customer. Whether theirs is a single- or multi-site operation, managers must be able to prove that goods out are of the quality expected and compliant with industry standards and legislation. Should an issue arise further along the supply chain they need a clear audit trail to show that their business is not liable for it.

Anybody working in the sector knows that problems can, and do, occur. The key is to identify them quickly and prevent them from escalating. When time is of the essence, and questions are being asked, the last thing staff members should be doing is trawling through folders and filing cabinets looking for crucial documents.

Practices like these are also unlikely to go down well with customers who have already invested in systems that provide full traceability. If health and safety is at risk, suppliers need to take appropriate action urgently, normally by informing all customers and recalling the product.

The commercial damage of such recalls is one of the reasons why bigger companies are increasingly choosing suppliers whose traceability processes match their own. In a complex global supply chain, where businesses are co-dependent, all product information must be readily available at all times.

Warehouse management systems (WMS) meet this demand for transparency and accuracy because personnel can record stock information (such as batch and serial numbers) and track pallets in real time until they leave the site, with details of who approved them and when.

Even if a firm experiences relatively few issues, and certainly no major ones, having systems in place to demonstrate traceability is one of the most effective ways of building customer confidence.

As well as helping to retain current clients, investment in the right tech can also help secure future contracts. It means the smallest businesses can impress a big customer, and outshine their competitors, with their professional approach to quality and compliance. Simply being able to respond to questions in a timely manner, thanks to full visibility across the warehouse, is a sign that a company is reliable and willing to uphold the highest standards.

Unlike the expensive, bespoke software that firms might once have used (or avoided) in previous years, the latest systems are developed for anyone to use, continually updated to ensure high functionality and security and can be implemented quickly. Many can also be integrated with customers’ existing systems, helping to speed up tasks and improve partnership working.

The emergence of major distribution centres shows the extent to which tech is shaping the industry, and smaller firms must adapt accordingly. Digitalisation is a journey that any successful warehouse operator will go through, although investment naturally depends on the nature and scope of their work. What is certain, though, is that nobody can afford to ignore the changes happening at the top, particularly where traceability is concerned.

Lucy Pamment,
Head of Product (Supply Chain Solutions), Access Group

For more information visit
www.theaccessgroup.com/warehouse-management.  

2019-01-04T10:11:12+00:00November 12th, 2018|Categories: Ask the Experts|Tags: |
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