The Ascent of Supply Chain to the Cloud
By Thomas R. Knutilla, CIO-Supply Chain Solutions, Ryder System
Like most industries, the supply chain industry is undergoing a revolutionary technological transformation. The days of waiting for specific windows of time to exchange information about logistical operations happening at any given moment are virtually behind us. Today’s supply chain operators need to gather real time logistics information and make actionable decisions instantaneously. Logistics software systems are more frequently interconnected with several other systems in order to provide a full picture view of inventory and freight in transit. Several emerging capabilities are helping to enable the ability to interconnect systems and devices, store the data, then analyze and present the data than has ever been available before. Major components to this technological shift include: integration technology, mobile technologies, data analytics, and the cloud.
The volume and speed of data is so great that implementing an integration software, or middleware, is critical to developing a robust technological architecture. By using messaging, message brokering and NoSQL database technologies, applications that serve various functions are able to efficiently communicate with one another to provide a coherent picture of the current state of operations. If one application has one version of the truth and another critical application has a different version of the truth, users will not have a clear picture of what is truly happening. This is why it is crucial to have consolidated data that feeds into every other system.
Integration technology allows us to tie logistics systems together with each other and with mobile technology being used by drivers and warehouse employees. Gone are the days of scheduling times for drivers to call in and provide status updates. Drivers can now be in constant contact with their base of operations through their mobile devices. If a truck driver is stuck in a traffic jam, their mobile devices can alert their management and make them aware of the problem. Additionally, through the use of cloud-based software it is now possible to know the vehicle will come upon a traffic jam prior to reaching their next delivery point before the driver is even aware. Adjustments to transportation planning can be made based on this information and the receiving site notified before the truck ever comes to a stop. Other use cases include determining where a particular vehicle is and what freight it’s carrying, optimizing routes, and facilitating fueling efficiency.
Analytics tools, dashboards and reporting capabilities have improved dramatically as well. Through dashboards on their mobile devices, one can instantly and affordably provide both customers and employees with information that impacts their decision-making. Key operational measurements can be retrieved instantly, including productivity and output levels for any given location. Assets can be tracked much more effectively with devices that communicate directly through the cloud. We can also drill down and gain visibility into operational functions remotely. Whereas before it would require an individual to sit at their desk and pour over an overwhelming amount of information and typically take days to make any meaningful decisions, managers can now look into any warehouse and see the current status of that location’s inventory, allowing them to make intelligent decisions around buying or selling within minutes.
“Today’s supply chain operators need to gather real time logistics information and make actionable decisions instantaneously”
The cost savings of migrating to cloud technologies in terms of implementation, resource allocation, onsite maintenance and remote updating also make it the most attractive option. The subscription fees are competitive with what it would cost historically to develop, design, and implement a new system across the organization. 24/7 access allows us to address stability issues faster, which saves both us and our customers money. And the ease of increasing system capacity allows for a smooth path to support growth in data storage requirements and new business.
The primary challenge with this transformation is the human factor. Although someone can check their phones for real time updates, it doesn’t necessarily mean they always will. Getting end users to receive information and more importantly, input new data can be a serious challenge. Many people who have worked in the supply chain industry for many years are gradually learning how to process and leverage this new wealth of data at their fingertips. Now that we have highly detailed analytics reporting, we all have to learn how to best use the information. This is why establishing an effective change management strategy is essential.
The supply chain industry is still in its infancy of figuring out the best possible ways to leverage this new world of cloud technology. The speed of business has reached maximum levels, and it is the responsibility of those in the supply chain field to not only keep up with it but also enable it to get even faster through improved, cloud-based technology.