Current market turmoil is too big for any company to control, but leaders can take some first steps to protect themselves in 2022 with supply chain optimization best practices. Shoring up relationships, improving understanding of current affairs, and adding safeguards all can play a role in securing operations. For companies looking to create a significant impact in short order, here are seven optimization efforts to try.
1. Map the supply chain
Supply chain designs are changing rapidly. Not only can modern technology bring partners together and facilitate near-instant data transfer, but mergers and acquisitions are shifting the landscape of what’s available. To optimize a modern supply chain, you need a good map to see how parts move and where new connections appear.
Consider creating a robust visualization of your supply chain. Show how goods move, where data flows, and what connects each point physically and digitally. You may identify new pathways or constraints, discover unnecessary, duplicative efforts, or uncover advantages such as optimized warehouse locations. But to find these, you need to be able to look.
2. Consolidate data and documents
You need accurate data that’s readily available if you want to respond to a crisis. The more significant the delay in collecting and analyzing this information, the more time it takes to adapt to whatever occurs. So, focus your supply chain optimization on efforts to automate data capture, consolidate it, and make it usable for you and your partners.
One core area to start with is your documentation. Look for tools that support data capture and verification in standard documents, such as invoices, bills of lading, service-level agreements (SLAs), dock receipts, and more. Build a single repository to help you track everything a shipment uses. When possible, work to integrate your tracking and partner systems so that everyone is working from the most recent status and information.
3. Strengthen current relationships
Your supply chain is complex and intricate, involving a wide range of partners. Use the lessons and capabilities from documentation-focused efforts to foster broader communications improvements. Ask suppliers and partners what they need from you, such as updated forecasts or projections. Speak with carrier reps to secure capacity and discuss your seasonal volume. Tell companies how you measure their capabilities or SLA success. Ask partners how they measure you.
The aim is to open lines of communication and start discussing ways to be mutually beneficial in every deal. When you’re a better partner during non-peak, companies are more likely to give you additional support, capacity, and leeway during peak. As we’ve seen in 2020 and 2021, that can make a world of difference.
4. Secure additional space early
Keeping the peak season focus, it’s time to work on your current capacity. Can you or your 3PL store additional goods? Are you running out of shelf space? What will happen when you scale, up or down?
For 2022, it’s a promising idea to start thinking about scaling up your inventory. We’ve seen slower inbound services and prolonged delays at ports. So, increasing stock on hand helps you avoid stockouts and backorders. Work to secure or build that additional space early on to accommodate this increase in stock. It’ll protect order fulfillment as well as give your overall supply chain more lead time.
5. Create realistic alternatives
Communicating with existing partners around their KPIs and your needs, such as storage, will often identify gaps in coverage. You may realize that some partners can’t meet every demand or that they’re at risk when supply chains struggle.
Protect operations with supply chain optimization practices focused on diversity and alternatives. Bring on additional carriers and regional support to keep goods flowing. Try different warehouses or 3PLs for your sales channels to determine the best fit. Adding partners eliminates many single points of failure, allowing you to keep running when the market becomes complex. This protects customers and partners throughout the supply chain by ensuring operations don’t grind to a halt.
6. Enact a testing plan
Today’s supply chain relies on a considerable number of systems and tools to operate efficiently. So, any changes in these can impact your overall supply chain optimization efforts. Work with your partners and internal IT teams to create a plan for testing changes, tracking implementation, and evaluating results. Set metrics and KPIs for tools as well as new partners.
Whether you’re splitting fulfillment across multiple partners, trying new suppliers, or shifting ERPs, you’ll face significant challenges. A robust change management plan will help your teams stay on track, encourage people to try the new methods, and attempt to make investments lucrative. Give people what they need to grow your supply chain.
7. Continue to analyze and adapt
Supply chain optimization never truly ends. While the other tips can help you take initial steps or push a project further, you’ll want a team to review operations consistently. Assign analyst roles and tasks to ensure you’re continually reviewing the overall supply chain and any improvements you make. Crunch short- and long-term data to see where you’re succeeding or if new risks emerge. Always keep testing and reviewing to help mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions that have become increasingly common in the 2020s.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.
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