Modern distribution technology has significantly changed how suppliers get their products to end-users, and consumers are driving changes in how Distributors use technology to better their business processes. As a result, you need to understand what distribution technology trends, as explained by Advantage Business Media and Lindsay Konzak of Modern Distribution Management, are being seen in today’s distribution network and how they will impact future operations.
1. New Connected Technologies Are the Focus of Shippers and Carriers
The Internet of Things (IoT) Has been discussed at length in terms of how it impacts visibility and communication in the supply chain. However, stresses on today’s distributors are making carriers and shippers refocus their efforts to use the IoT. As a result, more companies are deploying radio frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth monitoring, and machine-to-machine connected devices to monitor and manage their shipments more accurately.
2. Value-Added Services and TMS Capabilities Are Critical Points in Contract Negotiation
Value-added services have also taken on a technology-like role as more companies want to use a comprehensive transportation management system (TMS) to thoroughly document and optimize their processes. As a result, carriers and suppliers are focusing on how value-added services, such as auditing, small package processing and delivery, and freight optimization, can reduce overall costs and shipping duration.
3. New Distribution Channels Are Forming Online and in Traditional, Brick-and-Mortar Stores
New distribution channels are directly impacting the amount of data in both online and brick-and-mortar stores. In other words, distribution technology like POS systems is providing data in real-time to suppliers and distributors. Meanwhile, e-commerce is driving better forecasting capabilities and enhancing inventory management, which translates into better optimization of freight, inventory management processes, and packaging needs.
4. Robotics Are Aiding an Aging Workforce
The workforce is aging. Millennials are looking for jobs involving technology, and days of manual labor as the sole workforce are ending. Furthermore, government regulations on occupational safety and hazards are forcing today’s distributors to use robotics wherever possible. In addition, the speed and accuracy of robotics in picking, packaging, and loading shipments is helping a stressed supply chain meet the needs of a growing customer base around the globe. Of all the distribution technology trends, Robotics is one that is already gaining much traction in several distribution centers across the world.
5. Hours of Service Guidelines Are Evolving
Hours of service (HOS) guidelines are also changing for drivers. Drivers are being required to make more stops and avoid long hauls as much as possible. Meanwhile, technologies are being mandated to ensure drivers that violate these requirements are held accountable. For example, electronic logging devices are automatically notifying carriers and shippers of HOS violations, which could impact the overall operation. Furthermore, HOS logs from electronic logging devices can be used to optimize the network, explains Telogis. In other words, the data from one log can automatically notify a carrier of a given driver’s decreasing amount of driving time remaining. This can result in the dispatch of a secondary driver from another location to intercept the original driver and continue transporting the shipment. Ultimately, the benefit is found in knowing where all drivers are, how long they can drive without violating HOS guidelines, and what steps can be taken to keep the flow of goods moving.
6. Mobile Technologies Are Changing How Distributors Think and Plan
Mobile technologies have also changed how distributors think and plan in the supply chain. Salespersons are no longer limited to cubicles and the sales floor. They can work with customers and businesses directly in the field, promoting a more comprehensive, service-level relationship. Furthermore, this can be a tool for forging new relationships as well.
For example, a shipper’s sales team can work with other businesses in a B2B setting. In other words, mobile technologies can be deployed to drive sales, encourage healthy competition and deliver better services to the end-user. Ultimately, the opportunities for using mobile technologies to improve workflows are limitless.
7. Analytics Are Becoming a Fundamental Part of the Distribution Technology Toolbag
Effective distribution management is not simply knowing where a product is in a warehouse and sending it out. Companies need to know where orders are derived from, where the shipments are going, when it is expected to arrive, how many consumers are leaving websites with items in the cart and beyond. Each of these factors contributes to information about why and why not customers are choosing to purchase goods from a given company.
For example, a customer who leaves items on a wish list or in the cart may have found better shipping options or pricing on Amazon, or he may have simply changed analytics play a vital role in keeping the supply chain thriving with more competition and options available to consumers.
Distribution is changing, and suppliers or carriers or fail to think about how technology is impacting their current operations will fail. Fortunately, the top distribution technology trends are easy to understand and leverage. However, you still must take the steps to embrace the technologies by renegotiating your shipper-carrier relationships or even working with a 3PL today.