As companies bring together brick-and-mortar and e-commerce channels, systems and distribution must be intelligent enough to know where the best place is to fill an order from — whether it is a distribution center or a retail store.
State-of-the-art warehouse and distribution management systems capable of storing, tracking, and updating in real-time a centralized inventory that spans all points in a distribution network are needed to do this. Today's smart order and inventory management systems help facilitate this. They can even automate updates with RFID and other mobile technology — but they require agile (and fluid) distribution networks to make it happen.
Supply chain bottlenecks (like a fixed distribution network that cannot shift with the market) must be removed to meet rising customer demands for premium service and next-day orders. So is a fluid distribution network the new normal?
“The idea that I could go into a store, find a jacket that I like, look it up on my iPhone, order it, and get it to me the next day sounded really unique a couple years ago. I think it's becoming more and more of the norm,” John Morris, senior managing director of Cushman & Wakefield Industrial, told REJournals.com in 2012. “I could see a future where Amazon has a distribution center in every major metro area and they ship to you next day, all the time and sometimes that same day. I can even see a future where Amazon has its own fleet of trucks.”
Retailers clearly have a strong start in the area of fluid distribution networks. Let's discuss how these lessons can strengthen the electronics supply chain as a whole.
- Predictive analytics modeling can determine where market customer shift points are trending — and whether distribution outlets need to shift.
- Newer supply chain networks of suppliers pre-qualified by cloud providers to meet most corporate EDI requirements can ensure that companies have multiple supplier options for electronic products and components in different locales.
- Cloud services and predictive analytics can enable electronics companies to evaluate suppliers for their riskiness. For example, predictive weather modeling can tell you the supplier of a critical component will be in a tsunami zone for the next five years).
- State-of-the-art warehouse management systems can centralize inventory tracking and updates across multiple distribution points. They are also more easily integrated into internal corporate systems like enterprise resource planning. This gives improved visibility of inventory, distribution, and customer order fulfillment.
- 3PL outsourcing gives companies more flexibility in changing their distribution networks when they must. You can always lease distribution facilities, and you can outsource distribution facility management when internal resources fall short.
These fluid technologies and business practices breathe new life into distribution network management. They are particularly advantageous in industries that move at the velocity of high tech and electronics.