The emergence of supply chain collaboration, big data, and green/sustainable supply chains has generated a lot of ink over the past few years. Despite all the buzz, only recently has there been actual movement at the business level. Due to advances in software architecture, data management, and solution delivery, these concepts are now being transformed into real-world applications, which in turn deliver tangible results. This transformation is especially good news for midmarket electronics manufacturers, because they can leverage these emerging technologies to drive product improvement, customer loyalty, and overall market share growth.
End-to-end supply chain collaboration is one tactic used to improve market intelligence. Regardless of the number of levels in a manufacturer's sales and distribution chain, product sales data (volume, place, patterns, etc.) can now be collected, shared, and acted on throughout the trading partner network. This additional information enables, for example, an original equipment moanufacturer to receive and analyze a variety of transportation and handling information from a distributor, as well as point of sale (POS) information from retail outlets. The data can be used to improve order cycle time and inventory turns for both materials and finished goods. It can also drive process re-engineering in configure-to-order/pack out to improve time to market, product quality, and customer satisfaction.
Market and usage data can also be collected through feedback programs and used to improve products and increase brand preference. Inbound feedback channels such as web pages, toll-free numbers, and business and consumer social media channels can accelerate the collection of product quality and customer satisfaction information for sales, operations, and product planning. These feedback channels also build greater rapport with end users and other purchase influencers downstream. Companies with more mature programs have started leveraging these channels to gather intelligence for product lifecycle management and new product development.
Keeping pace, solutions for analyzing and leveraging this influx of POS and quality/satisfaction data are improving as big data tools become better at pulling in only the information that is meaningful and useful. In addition, the emergence of more secure, faster SaaS/cloud delivery of these intelligence solutions is resulting in notable reductions in cost, as well as expansion in measuring and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) for the business. In practice, companies can now monitor a variety of KPIs and other indicators to address potential product, sales, or distribution issues quicker or to identify potential footprint accelerators in the market.
An area of equal importance is the growing focus on green/sustainable supply chains. In fact, customers indicate in studies that they are willing to pay more for products that are manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner (in both materials and labor). As witnessed over the past few years, they are also willing to call attention to and boycott products that aren't. Step one is partnering with suppliers whose business practices will pass social scrutiny. Beyond that, however, customer and purchase influencer awareness of compliance is key. This awareness can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some companies include compliance indicators in product labeling, such as “RoHS compliant” or a graphic indicating no use of conflict minerals. Other tactics include expanded product messaging to include regulatory compliance and/or labor compliance statements. Both of these serve to improve brand preference and brand confidence.
Most companies — especially middle-market ones — are still on the front end of the adoption curve when it comes to collaboration, big data, and green/sustainable supply chains. However, midmarket electronics manufacturers have an advantage as members of a forward-looking industry that must constantly implement next-generation solutions. These emerging technologies provide the next step to reducing the time, resources, and investment necessary for companies to remain competitive and increase market share.