Opening lines of communication
Information technology, especially in the supply chain, is one of those areas that we notice more often than not when it isn’t working.
When systems are humming, it’s often difficult to find the time and motivation to communicate with technology partners just to find out what’s new on the IT horizon.
Technology plays an important role in the success of supply chain management and routinely communicating with your partners about new opportunities is the best way to stay out front on new opportunities to improve your operations.
For example, Southwest Airlines recently announced Cargo Companion, a wireless asset-tracking solution that it sells to cargo customers on a transactional basis. The device allows companies to monitor and record location, shock, light, temperature, pressure, and humidity of cargo during transit. The technology is also smart enough to turn itself off in-flight to allow the trackers to work in conjunction with flight.
The service allows customers to track their cargo and links it to air waybills, allowing them to monitor shipments easily. It’s a relatively new service with few competitors in terms of the exact offering and could be a benefit to you or your partners. The best way to discover services like this, even if you aren’t a current Southwest customer, is to be in contact with your technology partners.
Technology partners can also point you to services similar and complementary to their offerings, just outside their scope.
The cloud-based phone systems provider RingCentral is a good example of a relevant service with which technology partners are likely familiar, but internal IT staff may not have the time to pursue while keeping your systems up and running. Phone technology isn’t typically included in warehouse or transportation management systems but this cloud offering can give continued flexibility to your operators by providing more control over all your systems on their preferred devices.
In April, RingCentral debuted a version of its platform that allows businesses to set up, manage, and use corporate phone systems from mobile devices. The system builds on the current trend of using a cloud platform to replace legacy systems, but addresses areas like faxes, voice, auto-receptionists, call routing, extension dialing, and other common business needs on both an office and individual device level. The new version also integrates with Dropbox, Box and Google Docs, allowing customers to share and fax documents stored in those cloud applications directly from their RingCentral service.
The supply chain concept pre-dates much of the technology we’ve come to rely on today, but adapting to newly available services, especially those Web-based software and communication offerings, can help companies reach their full potential of services, global partners, and data use.
Ways to open your communication channel with technology partners follow the same general concepts as the communication strategies you’re likely using for supply chain and manufacturing partners.
First, try scheduling meetings and events that aren’t tied to something going wrong. You don’t have to go so far as to organize your own technology partners summit, but you should reach out to the companies that provide, run, or support the technological backbone of your supply chain network. Many of your technology partners may work with each other, so discussing all the systems you use may reveal new means of integration and collaboration that can lead to a leaner supply chain or manufacturing environment.
Second, make these meetings regular events and include various departments. This helps maintain contacts and communication, including with different department heads and various team members that use these technological services on a regular basis.
Next, have your providers visit your sites, especially those where processes and system demands fluctuate. Giving providers insights into the changes in your business at certain times of the day or year can show them where their operations and processes should be more flexible to your needs.
Listen to what partners say about capabilities and possible plans. Listening is sometimes the most valuable part of the communications process and suggestions your partners make for changes could create a smoother process for your warehouse, shipping, or manufacturing. While suggestions from technology partners tend to include ideas on where to invest, you know you have a good partner when those suggestions help improve your operations or your bottom line.
In addition, talk about the future. While “forecasting analytics” and “predictive planning” are big buzz words these days, open a dialogue about your supply chain and where your technology partners can anticipate demand. With expansions, new hires, and new partnerships, having the IT groundwork laid before you make those moves can ease the transition.
Most companies find themselves in a continuous balancing act between forecasted needs and actual demands. The more supply chain models and preparation in place, the fewer things will be in the way to trip up your plans.
Opening these lines of communication can also help address two of the biggest technology concerns: resistance from partners and employees.
Partners and customers are often wary of jumping on board new technologies because of infrastructure investments, but strong relationships with technology partners can present opportunities where they will speak on your behalf to show the benefits of adopting new systems and software.
In terms of employees, technology providers often have the best idea around what software is easy to use and what trends are familiar to average employees in both work and home environments. Picking familiar services and engaging employees in your meetings with technology partners can get them on board with trusting your systems and getting rid of that love-hate relationship they have with workplace systems.