Trade is flourishing, and supply chains that were once linear are now a web of interconnected partners. Supply chain management software is a solution that oversees the movement of goods and data from the point of origin to its point of consumption. However, it also optimizes supply chain management processes, automates repetitive tasks, and provides a more efficient flow of information. This leads to more trusted relationships between partners within the value chain, more revenue-generating opportunities, and happier end consumers.
We’ve identified eight features essential to supply chain management software—ones that can help organizations create a solid digital supply chain and look at it from a more strategic perspective, instead of just the functional requirements.
1. Ability to integrate throughout the supply chain
Technology is an enabler, and a digital solution should introduce functionalities that span the entire supply chain, integrating multiple entities like suppliers, OEMs, shippers, warehouse centers, and customers. It should connect with all your other applications, including enterprise software, legacy systems, third-party applications, help desk, and email—regardless of the information source, operating system, or platform. This can eliminate connectivity issues and enable efficient information flow across a chain.
By bringing together disparate systems, people, and processes, integration creates a single source of truth for all stakeholders, eliminating miscommunication.
This also cuts down the costs of maintaining separate applications, and avoids overlaps in the features of each. This results in better production planning, efficient use of logistics, and avoiding stock-outs or excess inventory. The use of APIs, data connectors, and SDKs make integration with core systems possible, thus leveraging already existing infrastructure.
For instance, the ability to create orders and bill customers from a single, central location simplifies the work of operations managers. It eliminates redundancies and the chance for miscommunication or wrong orders. Flexible features within the order management and billing function can be used to customize the system to suit different customer segments or product categories, and cater to unique requirements.
2. Real-time and collaboration capabilities
Real-time information is essential to avoiding things like bottlenecks, missing goods—and unhappy customers. With real-time capabilities, organizations are empowered to respond to changes in the supply chain immediately, as they arise.
Effective supply chain management software should allow multiple stakeholders to work together on a project so that they’re on the same page, without the need for frequent back and forth communication or manual updates.
For example, a fleet manager, a truck driver, and a customer located in physically different places can stay connected and have the same visibility on an order, thus increasing collaboration and maintaining end-to-end transparency.
This can be done through:
Personalized dashboards: A personalized dashboard gives stakeholders the insights relevant to them, at their fingertips. It allows up-to-date status monitoring of all processes, and simplifies governance.
Self-service portals: In a supply chain network, there are many parties involved, and they need each other to succeed. However, they’re not all connected to each other, which can cause miscommunication. A portal is a password-protected site that eliminates communication challenges by enabling members to share information and plan operations based on each other’s activities.
Role-based authorization: Your application should be accessible to everyone, but not all the data in it. That’s why you pick supply chain management software that has roles and permissions which let you authorize vendors, customers, and other stakeholders to access only the information they need.
One option that has all these capabilities is Zoho Creator. It’s a workflow automation platform that fundamentally changes the way teams, leaders, and businesses get work done. Over 10,000 brands trust Zoho Creator as the best way to plan, track, automate, and report on work.
3. Process optimization abilities
If routine, repetitive tasks are automated, it enables staff to work on more revenue-generating ones.
Automating the order-to-cash cycle as much as possible shortens the product life cycle, reduces the need for paper-based documentation, and creates tighter links between manufacturing, warehousing, and delivery.
Apart from automating operational tasks with custom rules, businesses can leverage AI and machine learning to optimize other tedious tasks, as well.
For example, software can be trained to approve a product only if it’s in its best-finished state, eliminating the need for manual intervention. This approach enables organizations to explore more agile ways of working, better manage high levels of complexity, and call in human intervention only in the case of exceptions.
Optimization tools in logistics and transportation help companies move goods in an efficient manner, at the lowest cost possible. This is important in the face of rising fuel costs, as well as constantly evolving national and regional regulations that can introduce uncertainties or slow down the movement of shipments.
4. Analytics and forecasting
Along with automating day-to-day tasks, good supply chain management software should help you evaluate your business, with built-in analytics and forecasting capabilities to help you:
Understand the health and performance of your business
Capitalize on your current strengths
Anticipate customer demand and plan future production
Spot inefficiencies in your system
Predict events which are likely to occur
Some advanced software has predictive analytics that help balance disparities between supply and demand by providing data on both internal (demand) and external (weather, industry, regulation) trends.
With AI and machine learning, the software learns to identify risks and volatility on its own, and notifies stakeholders accordingly. This enables stakeholders to plan procurement and production processes efficiently, without having to buy unnecessary raw materials or store excess finished goods on warehouse shelves, hence reducing costs.
Managers can introduce innovative processes like predictive dispatch—anticipating future demand—while leaders are empowered to plan future needs better with accurate data and insights, as well as run what-if simulations to mitigate risks. In other words, analytics help organizations leverage existing data to make their future processes and systems better.
Prebuilt components in the application and customized configuration of business rules introduce flexibility that helps businesses adapt to changes quickly and go to market faster, with customized solutions for consumers. Some supply chain solutions let developers extend their features with programming languages like Java and Python. Open architecture also encourages organizations to build their own applications to suit their unique requirements like developing multiple variations of a product to cater to different customer segments, thus maximizing profitability.
6. Cloud-based access and mobility
With cloud-based supply chain software, businesses can be accessed by authorized users from anywhere, at any time, so they can continue to manage, track and monitor the progress of transactions on the move. An additional benefit is that businesses can set up a cloud-based solution at a lower cost, in less time, and with less risk than investing in an on-premise system.
Organizations that have access to a mobile app for managing their supply chain and logistics functions have a better chance of staying up to date on various activities, like order status or shipping. Real-time alerts can be sent directly to users’ mobile phones, collaboration between different parties is enhanced, and immediate action can be taken in case of any issues.
Data security is the heart of any business software. While choosing a supply chain management solution, companies should evaluate:
They should also ensure the necessary standards for secure communications between authorized parties, and that all technology-related compliance is maintained.
Any software must grow with a business. And as organizations make inroads into new regions, expand their product portfolio, and acquire new customers, a supply chain solution should be able to handle the increasing volume that comes with it. It also needs to support multiple applications and additional channels without affecting the system’s performance.
The right supply chain solution results in strategic success
Organizations need to re-evaluate the designs of their supply chains to meet the sophisticated demands of the “always digital” customer, maintain compliance across borders, and create economies of scale.
By matching business objectives with the right product capabilities, they can leverage emerging business models, plan faster and smarter, and use supply chains as a source of competitive advantage. It can also mean a strategic advantage for businesses looking for global partners, as relationships between different parties in the network are strengthened in a connected, integrated ecosystem. Such a supply chain is capable of maintaining a customer-first approach, being more dynamic and freeing up cash stuck in traditional, legacy processes.
To ensure that your organization chooses a technology that yields the best results, consider software that covers all the factors we mentioned above. It could be custom software or an off-the-shelf solution, but it should add value to existing supply chain processes and contribute to business growth.