Field Sales and Delivery Route Accounting Transportation and Logistics

How Predictive Sales Forecasting Benefits the Supply Chain

Nobody can predict the future, but thanks to some powerful software and the use of accurate automatic data capture technology, most companies can generate a pretty good idea of what their sales and inventory will look like in the days, weeks, and months ahead. With predictive sales forecasting, it’s possible to reduce excess inventories while also improving sales and streamlining supply chain operations.

Forecasting isn’t perfect, particularly the farther into the future you project, but it can help ensure that you have enough inventory in the supply chain to satisfy demand, but without increasing obsolescence or losses. Forecasting can help you avoid overestimated demand that leads to bloated inventory and high costs and underestimating demand that means customers won’t get the products they want.

Companies can generate better forecasts by using mobile computers, like Zebra Technologies’ TC51/TC56 or TC8000, and specialized software to collect and analyze data on sales, returns, stales, specific customer order histories, promotions, seasonal fluctuations, and other factors.

For companies that specialize in route delivery — particularly for direct store delivery applications where perishable goods may be involved — there are clear benefits for being able to let customers know their optimal inventory levels.

With historical data, companies can also predict times when there may be large swings in demand that would require more or less inventory. In turn, that can help avoid costly overstocks or out of stock situations that result in lost sales for both the supplier and the customer.

Doing so can help minimize stales or returns on a weekly basis. This, by itself, can justify implementation of more robust mobile route management systems.  Tying historical information to today’s detail stock position can provide much better dynamic planning.
For example, companies using mobile computers, barcode scanning, and a product like the omniQ Route Edge solution for field applications can use data gathered at the customer location to create these forecasts. Route Edge can eliminate errors in the field to help better manage inventory, returns, deliveries, and orders. Using customer information and sales history, the solution can help minimize returns and out of stocks by ensuring that companies provide the right level of products in the right amounts.

Reducing Risk

This predictive sales forecasting can improve sales and operations planning, and help various departments (sales, operations, planning, manufacturing, finance, etc.) work from a unified forecast. This helps increase revenue opportunities and reduces inefficiency.

This can result in a number of critical benefits in the supply chain.

–  Predictive sales forecasting can reduce risk by providing more accurate scenario planning. With forecasting software and data from the field, a company could predict the impact of a weather event or a new promotion on sales.

–  By identifying the factors that affect sales fluctuations, companies can do a better job of identifying customer needs and getting ahead of these spikes or dips in demand.

–  Marketers can greatly benefit from predictive sales forecasting. They can see the impact of a marketing campaign and use that to design better promotions, or identify specific time periods when a promotion might be most effective.  Price optimization is another benefit, since companies can better gauge when discounting can be used to reduce inventories without damaging their margins.

–  Predictive sales forecasting can also help improve the way companies approach product lifecycle management, because they can use historical data to identify when demand is likely to drop off.

Accurate forecasting reduces risk in the supply chain and helps keep inventories optimized for both you and your customers. By leveraging your delivery drivers and field force to gather accurate inventory data at customer sites, you can generate more accurate forecast — and reap the benefits of higher sales and reduced obsolescence.



Industry Solutions Manufacturing Mobility Transportation and Logistics

How to Improve Food Safety Supply Chain Management

The food supply chain is a particularly complex one to manage. You need to take environmental and time constraints into account to make sure perishable items get from the point of production through processing, distribution, and retail/wholesale operations before they spoil. Food safety regulations that have emerged over the past few years have added more complexity.

Relevant regulations in this space include the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which require improved data on food origins as well as lot and traceability information to help improve the recall process across the food safety supply chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently released new rules that even require grocery stores that grind raw beef products to keep records about where the meat came from, lot numbers and production dates, and the date and time each ground beef product was produced.

There have also been advances in detecting and tracking food contamination incidents. For example, there is PulseNet, which state public health laboratories use to analyze bacteria strains from sick individuals and then report to the CDC. The FDA Reportable Food Registry requires companies to report serious product contamination as well.

These new regulations also offer an opportunity for stakeholders across the industry to improve food safety supply chain management by leveraging technology to improve compliance, make the recall process faster and more accurate, and reduce costs. Companies can also improve their own safety performance in the following ways:

Carefully vet all suppliers, distributors, and carriers. Failure to comply with best practices when it comes to food safety can put your brand at risk, so make sure you know exactly where your products have been, including all storage facilities, trucks, and other stops along the way. Investigate the safety practices at those facilities. Find out what kind of testing they do, and how often.

Conduct regular audits. Establish a formal auditing process for your own facilities and those of your suppliers or carriers. This also will help you document your own food safety supply chain improvement efforts.

Create comprehensive purchasing agreements. Involve food safety professionals in outlining supplier agreements so you can minimize risk. Have requirements in writing relative to meeting federal and state rules and regulations, as well information on their own supplier agreements and notifications of any supply changes.

Maintain accurate labeling. The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires importers to provide a significant amount of information to the FDA prior to importation of food, including lot, code number or other identifiers, information about he submitter and transmitter, and other identifying data.

Likewise, the FSMA requires a comprehensive product tracing system to track the movement of food from the farm to the point of sale or service. This is so producers can contain outbreaks of foodborne illnesses more quickly.

Implement accurate tracking technology.  As in other industries, the food safety supply chain can benefit from the use of automatic identification technology. There are efforts worldwide to extend food supply chain tracking right back to the individual animal. Governments and suppliers around the world have invested in livestock traceability systems, often using RFID transponders, and these efforts can even extend to the point of delivery or purchase.

omniQ, for example, has developed an RFID-based tray tracking solution that allows bakeries to track deliveries and provide information about the baked goods on the tray to reduce stales and automate replenishment processes.  This also provides needed lot tracking control to identify exactly what batch of products went to what locations.

In addition to barcode and RFID labeling, there are number of high-tech approaches to automating food safety processes. For example, iCertainty and Zebra Technologies created a solution that combines iCertainty’s software, Zebra’s mobile computers, and wireless temperature probes to provide real-time information on food safety audits.  Temperature and other environmental measurements can even be gathered from the point of origin to delivery to ensure that conditions were not exceeded at any point in the journey.

Develop an emergency response plan for recalls and emergencies. With accurate food safety supply chain data in hand, you can perform more targeted recalls and get the contaminated food off the shelf much faster. Establish specific responsibilities for your own team, develop protocols for each supplier and retailer, and have a response team ready to inform consumers and work with the media.

By working with suppliers, creating a clear response plan, and leveraging automated tracking technology, food manufacturing and distribution companies can maintain compliance while also improving traceability and making the recall process faster and less expensive.

Transportation and Logistics

How to Develop an Effective Supply Chain Strategy

Supply chain management requires developing an effective supply chain strategy. Your supply chain strategy should focus on the efficient transfer and movement of inventory — it’s the only efficient way of balancing the often difficult-to-forecast pulls of customer demand and supplier availability.

What type of supply chain do you want? There is no one “right” way to organize and optimize a supply chain. Depending your industry and your goals, your supply chain may be organized around different sets of criteria.

Products with a short lifecycle may require a supply chain that focuses on speed; highly competitive industries may instead focus on supply chain efficiency in order to contain costs. If there is considerable uncertainty around demand, then responsiveness is more important than efficiency. A more flexible approach might be appropriate for industries where there are unexpected demand peaks or highly seasonal demand. Your strategy should be aligned with the business pressures and customer requirements you face in the real world.

Below we’ve outlined some of the most important steps required to develop an effective supply chain strategy.

1. Take a holistic view: Supply chain management requires more than just sales and inventory information. Forecasting technology has become much more reliable and granular. Forecasting tools backed by high-performance computing resources can generate reliable forecasts based on sales data as well as outside demographic data, geographic trends, and even weather forecasts.

Your supply chain strategy should involve integrating the flow of information both upstream and downstream so that all stakeholders can respond to these demand signals in a timely fashion.

2. Take heed of industry trends: Each industry has its own set of demand drivers, industry standards, and supply chain management protocols. These change and evolve over time. While you can’t reconfigure your supply chain strategy in response to every passing technology or inventory management fad, it’s not too difficult to see which way the proverbial wind is blowing when it comes to major shifts.

If a number of your suppliers are beginning to demand certain types of information or are shifting to just-in-time supply models, or if suppliers seem to be coalescing around a particular data standard, you should at least prepare to change your supply chain strategy so that you’re ready to adopt the changes when it is prudent. You can wait and see, up to a point; a worse strategy is stubbornly resisting to avoid disruption or technology investments. If your company winds up on the outside of what has become an industry standard, it could cost you a lot more in lost business in the long term.

3. Understand your company’s unique value proposal: What is your competitive positioning within the supply chain? What are the minimum requirements that will make you an option for customers, and what elements can differentiate you from competitors in the supply chain? Your strategy should focus on that differentiation, and the added value you can provide through your supply chain.

4. Incorporate risk management: Identify the risks to optimal performance, both internal and external. What are the weakest or least secure “links” in your supply chain? How can you mitigate those risks? Come up with action plans, identify alternate suppliers or transportation resources, and assign team members for specific response actions when there is a breakdown in the supply chain.

Finally, implement your supply chain strategy in such a way that you can continuously monitor performance and adjust accordingly to enable improvement.

The supply chain strategy development process is both cross-functional and requires continuous monitoring and adaptation. Markets change. Your customers and suppliers change. By implementing a continuous improvement process, your supply chain strategy can quickly adapt and respond to those changes.

Mobility Route Accounting Transportation and Logistics

4 Ways to Improve the Last Mile Delivery Efficiency of your Supply Chain

Supply chain management solutions have revolutionized the movement of goods from one node to another, but the “last mile” of the supply chain — the point at which goods leave a large volume facility and then arrive at the final destination — is still highly inefficient and very costly. Final delivery can be complicated or delayed by traffic, construction, inefficient dispatching, incorrect addresses, unattended delivery issues, signature capture problems, and other factors. Because of this, last mile delivery can account for as much as 28% of total delivery costs

Companies have developed a variety of last-mile delivery solutions to combat these issues. Amazon has even investigated using unmanned drones to drop parcels at customers’ homes. Most companies aren’t going to go quite that far to improve delivery operations, but there are a number of technology and operational fixes that reduce costs and make your last-mile delivery operations more efficient.

Planning Tools Are a Must

Routing, scheduling, and planning are simply too complex, and customer delivery requirements too stringent, to possibly manage your operations in a spreadsheet or on paper. Invest in route planning and fleet management tools that can help you optimize routes while also providing real-time information on delivery status and truck location.

Using these software solutions, you can more effectively monitor vehicle running costs, driver overtime, number of stops completed, the quality of your routes, loading priorities, and delivery time windows. The solution should also include robust mapping tools to improve address accuracy. These software tools provide the data you need to accelerate the last mile delivery process, while also allowing you to optimize operations and improve routing and scheduling.

A good planning tool also continues to get better by using the data generated daily to help you better organize your network’s last mile delivery process. These systems can analyze your routes and help you identify optimal locations for depots, for example, or provide recommendations on growing or shrinking the delivery fleet, or even the potential benefits of outsourcing some operations.

Shrink Delivery Windows

With a planning and routing tool in place, you can provide more accurate ETAs to your customers in order to meet their increasingly strict delivery window requests. In addition to improving customer services, this allows you to increase your hit density, or the number of deliveries your drivers can make in a given shift. Increasing the delivery rate will reduce the overall cost of running that route, so any improvement can go straight to the bottom line.

Customer-specific delivery restrictions, challenging loading zones, customer delays, and perishability of freight will work against your hit density and route efficiency. Route planning tools can help take those elements into consideration, build the route to minimize their impact, and create more accurate ETAs.

Navigation Tools Boost Delivery Accuracy

Getting the drivers from Point A to Point B can be extremely difficult in some urban environments. Trucks don’t just need to know where to go; they need to know about weight and size restrictions for vehicles on certain routes, and customer-specific information about yards, parking lots, private roads, and other elements and obstacles that can make it challenging to reach the final point of delivery.

Navigation tools can help drivers make their way right to the correct loading dock, while improving driver safety and efficiency. Routes can be built to accommodate weight and hazardous materials restrictions in many municipalities. Some of these systems also include real-time traffic and construction data that can help reroute trucks dynamically to avoid time and fuel-wasting delays.

Mobility Completes the Package

The physical delivery process itself is another opportunity for efficiency improvements. This is where mobile computing technology can make a big impact. If drivers have to wrangle paper forms during the delivery process, it can increase the amount of time the driver takes to complete the delivery. That eats into the productivity of the route and increases costs.

Using mobile devices, like the Zebra MC9500-K Rugged Mobile Computer, drivers can quickly access the needed documents, obtain electronic signatures, and update the back-end supply chain management solution. Instead of spending time at the end of the route filing paperwork, drivers can schedule extra deliveries. In industries where drivers must maintain hours of service (HOS) or fuel tax logs, the fleet management system and hand-held computer can automatically track that information. That eliminates another time-consuming pile of paperwork for the driver and frees up valuable minutes to increase hit density.

As logistics providers and delivery companies vie for more business, the companies that are able to perform last-mile deliveries in the smartest, most efficient fashion will win out. Using route planning and scheduling, fleet management, and mobile delivery systems can give your company a critical competitive advantage.