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Why The Holidays Are Prime Time For Manufacturers To Look At Supply Chain Automation

Within the manufacturing sector, many leaders overlook Black Friday and Cyber Monday given the more retail-focused nature of these days. But in fact, these two consumer holidays — and the high-traffic months that follow them — are the perfect time for manufacturers to look inward at their own supply chain, with an eye toward how they can optimize operations.

After Thanksgiving, the business world must gear up for the busiest time of the year. Beginning with Black Friday — and shortly after that, Cyber Monday — enterprises must prepare for a hectic three months that this year is projected to generate more than $1 trillion in sales.

Buoyed by an extremely robust economy and a notably strong job market, consumers aren’t holding back this shopping season. Instead, they’re channeling their high degree of confidence and job security into their holiday purchasing, where they’re anticipated to collectively spend nearly five percent more money than they did during last year’s holiday season, according to a report by Deloitte.

This positive projection is great news for the business world, with one key caveat: Companies need to be prepared to scale up for the season. Because for all the benefits that the holiday shopping season can deliver to enterprises, it also presents huge challenges to organizations that aren’t prepared to meet the significantly increased pressure on the supply chain that the season brings.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday represent the litmus test for whether businesses can meet this challenge.

Within the manufacturing sector, however, many leaders overlook Black Friday and Cyber Monday given the more retail-focused nature of these days. But in fact, these two consumer holidays — and the high-traffic months that follow them — are the perfect time for manufacturers to look inward at their own supply chain, with an eye toward how they can optimize operations.

Holiday shopping season presents a learning opportunity for the manufacturing supply chain

In the days leading up to and including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers across the country will scramble to fulfill an influx of customer orders. As a result, they’ll lean on their supply chains, devising the best and most strategic methods to function quickly and efficiently during this period of peak demand. Within the retail sector, there’s a growing effort to implement supply chain management tools to help alleviate the massive holiday workloads that can otherwise become untenable.

But as retailers take steps to rollout better supply chain strategies in time for the holiday rush, manufacturers should take note. Because as a 2016 report by analyst group IDC pointed out, the manufacturing sector is undergoing a significant period of transformation that is putting pressure on established manufacturers to evaluate their supply chains and implement significant changes.

The primary driver behind these changes is the industry-wide imperative to adopt digital transformation. As profiled in Supply Chain Quarterly, the IDC report highlighted several key ways in which the manufacturing industry and its supply chain is fundamentally transforming, including the emergence of cloud-based commerce networks, integrated business planning efforts, and micrologistics networks.

Automating the manufacturing supply chain – and what to look for in a provider

Just as retailers are evaluating their supply chain management strategies to keep pace with the holiday demand that Black Friday and other seasonal high-traffic days bring, manufacturers must similarly look at supply chain management in order to meet the mounting demands of a competitive and digital-forward industry. And that’s where manufacturers can gain a significant advantage by pursuing supply chain automation.

The idea behind effective automation solutions is that they offer businesses the ability to identify facets of their supply chain that are weighed down by manual, time-intensive functions. Many enterprises don’t realize the degree to which their supply chains are being bogged down by needlessly time-consuming elements until they implement a solution that enables them to take a bird’s eye view of their supply chain and its inefficiencies.

But in order to realize the benefits of automation, manufacturers need to make sure they leverage a tool that provides true bottom-line benefits, including lowering operating costs and driving up efficiency across the supply chain. To set themselves up for success, manufacturers must carefully evaluate prospective solution providers. Here are some of the central elements manufacturers should look for when identifying a supply chain automation solution:

  • User-friendly interface: For manufacturers, one of the key deterrents to implementing an automation solution is the prospect of a user interface that’s not UX-friendly and will require significant onboarding for internal staffers. To avoid this problem, manufacturers should vet all potential solutions on the basis of usability, ultimately choosing a solution that provides a straightforward user experience.
  • Integration potential: Another understandable concern for manufacturers is that a supply chain automation solution will require total overhaul of existing tools. But with a robust solution, that doesn’t need to be the case. Top-tier supply chain automation tools will offer manufacturers easy integration within their existing framework.
  • A gradual deployment: While many manufacturers are quick to embrace new technology — and will have that same energy about rolling out a supply chain automation solution — it’s important for this to be done incrementally so that internal business processes — as well as personnel — can adapt. For that reason, it’s advisable for manufacturers to focus on automation solution providers that offer a gradual deployment structure.

Within manufacturing, the mounting push toward digital is putting pressure on industry leaders to evaluate the existing functionality of their supply chains. If Black Friday and Cyber Monday are times of heightened self-evaluation for retailers, they should be for manufacturers as well. Because even if manufacturers aren’t directly tied to these primarily retail-based holidays, they can still use them as an opportunity to look inward at the parts of their supply chain that should be automated to meet evolving demands. 

Ryan Duguid is SVP of Technology Strategy at Nintex.

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