What will our supply chains look like after the impact of the pandemic has turned from an all-hands-on-deck crisis to some sort of new normal? Will either demand or supply patterns return to pre-COVID-19 levels? And should that happen, will it be in carefully managed phases, or more rapidly?
Many consumer-market experts speculate that we may find some of the changes in consumer buying—such as increased adoption of food home delivery or stocking cupboards with monthly visits to large-format stores—habit-forming, even after restaurants, hotels and fast-food outlets are once again operating at max capacity.
To imagine the future, we can look at what’s happening in the present crisis—astonishing, even heroic acts of supply chain flexibility.
-An industrial gases company pivoted so it was able to deliver a month’s worth of desperately needed medical oxygen in three days.
-A chain of currently shuttered department stores has loaned its distribution facilities and assets to a supermarket chain under pressure to keep food shelves full, as far more of us than usual eat three meals a day at home.
-A plastics molding company designed, developed and distributed a foldable, portable intubation shield within weeks.
These businesses have something in common—they have been able to use data and industry-specific software solutions to quickly adapt to shifting fulfilment and delivery operations, often over and over.
The need for flexibility in making and distributing goods is and will be, most obviously on show at the delivery end, where goods and services reach the point of purchase or consumption. Today’s newly responsive, efficient supply chain needs to stretch all the way to the supermarket shelf or patient’s bedside.
That won’t be possible without the ability to access and analyze extraordinarily detailed data about delivery operations. For distribution companies, this will be the key to competing and winning in a post-COVID-19 business landscape, where the ability to pivot quickly will be most prized.
What’s absolutely crucial is that companies can quickly model multiple potential new distribution strategies before they make actual changes. When granular-level information about what was delivered where and when yesterday is fed into delivery-planning software, it can help supply chain executives run myriad what-if scenarios to determine what resources to deploy tomorrow. What inventory, trucks and drivers would be required if sales volume dropped 50 percent, or doubled? What if orders are fulfilled out of a different distribution center?
Purpose-built route planning software like Aptean’s answers these and other questions in a matter of minutes—a superpower we are all going to need in the future. For example, it means a retailer can pivot quickly and easily, back and forth between replenishing outlets and delivering to homes, or rapidly increase service to demand hotspots. Regarding the “new normal” in delivery operations, the only certainty will be uncertainty. The ability to deftly manage this unpredictability will be a huge competitive advantage.
And yet, for a large number of businesses, delivery operations remain hampered by a lack of visibility or fine-tuned control. Too many rely on rudimentary distribution planning tools, or even paper-based systems to plan and assess their delivery operations. This means they are caught flat-footed when circumstances demand rapid change. Worse, the critical information about particular customer needs and demands too often resides in the head or heads of delivery planning staff, and becomes unavailable when those workers go sick or leave.
We need to pay heed to the lessons we’re learning during this challenge. The supply chain, like the virus, is global, but its effects are ultimately felt in individual businesses and homes. For companies reliant on delivery operations, if management of the final mile wasn’t a strategic imperative before COVID-19, it is now. It’s time to wake up to that reality and build delivery capabilities that are more flexible, more collaborative and, above all, data-smart.
To learn more about how to automate your route planning, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole O’Rourke has 25 years of success in building strategic marketing organizations and is responsible for leading Aptean’s global marketing and communications efforts as Chief Marketing Officer. She previously held the position of Senior Vice President and CMO for Manhattan Associates. Before that, she served as CMO at Covance Inc., and in senior strategic marketing roles at Aetna and Johnson & Johnson. O’Rourke holds a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Cornell University. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia, near Aptean’s global headquarters. Nicole can be contacted directly on LinkedIn or via email@example.com.