Fostering a Data-Centric Culture in Fulfillment Operations

Tags: Distribution, Big Data

With more customers shopping from their couches, there’s never been a greater need for distribution center efficiency. Items are flying off the shelves, and both pickers and management are feeling the pinch.

It’s no surprise, then, that technologies designed to help unlock and leverage data are rising in importance. According to Zebra Technologies, 61 percent of warehouses see analytics as one of their top investments; 52 percent see Internet of Things technologies the same way. To successfully foster a data-driven culture across your fulfillment operation, however, you need buy in from the c-suite down to your pickers. That means understanding and communicating both the long-term return on investment from a clean data strategy and the benefits of data-driven execution.

Here are three stories you need to be able to tell to embrace the value of data for DC decision-making – and keep it there:

Data helps develop deeper insights faster

DCs are in the business of being precise. Even the smallest broken cog can slow down pickers, which reduces the number of items going to packers and prevents shipments from leaving in a timely manner. Innovation-focused management should incorporate data-driven technology that enables efficiencies, reduces labor costs and prevents the guessing game as to where the system is gummed up.

IoT sensors provide data that allows management to see both real-time status and operational trends over time. When changes are needed, such as hiring new staff, investing in more technology or adding facilities, data gives management the analytic-driven proof to defend the expense in the c-suite.

Data makes simplifying operations possible

You’ve used data to demonstrate where process improvements are needed. So what now? Data – but not only process data – answers that question. Gathering trusted insights from both your product and customer data allows you to understand product dimensions and popularity, so that you can store the right amount of this Christmas’ hottest toy as close to the packing stations as possible. But you don’t have to stop there. Understanding what products are often sold together allows you to optimize pick paths across the warehouse.

Looking at the bigger picture, the DC is just one part of an extensive supply chain. It needs to interact with suppliers to keep items in stock, and communicate with the brick-and-mortar and eCommerce teams. Investing in technology that allows master data sharing throughout production and delivery improves communication and ensures product moves to the customer as seamlessly as possible.

Data drives a better customer experience

In today’s eCommerce-focused economy, direct-to-consumer shipping means the DC is always one degree from the customer. They’re judging you based on how quickly you can get the product to their doorstep, and whether they can track the product throughout fulfillment. With data informing your operations, you can reduce movements throughout the warehouse, deliver your promise of faster shipping, and easily enable the visibility customers crave.

And don’t forget: visibility extends to in-store shoppers as well. A data-driven culture means breaking down silos between the store and the DC. Clerks need access to accurate inventory data to let customers know whether an out-of-stock item can be shipped, and how quickly. Embracing the value of clean data both in and out of the warehouse leads to a more connected company, and, ultimately, happier (and loyal) customers.

Let data drive the DC and beyond

Investing in data management can help your DC run smoother. However, you shouldn’t quit once you’ve rearranged a few aisles. Take your learnings from fulfillment and use them to encourage greater data investment in all aspects of your operation. As your digital transformation strategy comes into view, consider the benefits of a multi-domain master data management solution. MDM ensures data silos are eliminated and product, customer and supplier data is both clean and visible to whichever department needs it. The numbers don’t lie – so let them be your guide.






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