August 2013 | Commentary | Checking In

Keeping Track of Time

Tags: Supply Chain Management

Felecia Stratton is the editor of Inbound Logistics magazine.

If your average day is anything like mine, you face an endless barrage of internal emails, corporate memos, newsletters, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to refinance a home loan. Spam filters, email notifications, and custom preferences help organize this self-perpetuating info soup, making it easier to manage communications—then act according to priority.

Complicating matters is the reality that many of us are accessible on demand. Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, according to Pew Research. Among logistics professionals, that percentage is likely far greater. We're conditioned to the thwump, beep, and buzz alerts that never fail to get our attention.

In the context of today's supply chain, the ability to communicate is at a premium. We collect and disseminate information in countless ways—through email, social media, EDI, RFID, and bar code, on a truck in the DC, or at the point of sale. As the speed of e-commerce continues to shape consumer expectations, whether they are shopping online or not, supply chains have to keep pace. Time is money. The faster shippers can collect and analyze this wealth of data, and even predict customer behavior, the better they can react.

Our August issue explores how different parties along the supply chain, from retailers to OEM suppliers, are keeping track of parts and finished goods to drive visibility and create flexibility.

Increasingly, shippers are leveraging cloud-based solutions to seamlessly connect disparate functions and business partners, mine and integrate data, and build flexible IT architecture that can expand and contract as business growth dictates. In Retailers Try I.T. on for Size, learn how Urban Outfitters is using a customized retail store Web application to better capture merchandise analytics; and why leather goods e-tailer Saddleback Leather Company implemented a bundled ERP and inventory planning solution to more accurately forecast demand.

When supply chains are complex, or companies are sensitive to quality control and chain-of-custody requirements, interplay between suppliers and producers is amplified. If critical parts run out on an assembly line, for example, the ripple effect downstream can be cataclysmic. Merrill Douglas' article B2B Manufacturing: Feeding the Line demonstrates how suppliers, manufacturers, and 3PLs are working in concert to better sense changes in demand, then align parts procurement and production accordingly.

And, as evidence of how the physical and digital worlds collide, Lisa Harrington's Scantastic Bar-Code Tracking Tools examines how shippers are squeezing more information out of bar codes to track and manage inventory as it moves through the supply chain.

As always, if you would like to comment on what you read in this issue, please email me. That's one email I'm looking forward to receiving.