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How to Build Your Supply Chain Technology Stack

January 26, 2024
Joe Fitzpatrick

ERP systems and all-in-one supply chain management suites sometimes don’t live up to expectations. Once you have them, they’re also hard to get rid of.

So, operations managers often respond to pressing business challenges by looking for more specialized tools. This can be messy. It might lead to data silos and frustrate efforts toward supply chain visibility.

But the solution is not to go shopping for yet another silver bullet. There is no software package that will transform operations in one shot. Digital maturity is only achieved step-by-step.

The software landscape has changed, and legacy technology vendors can’t keep up with the vibrant SaaS marketplace. Today, thousands of companies build tools that do one thing and do it well. They’re often led by people who’ve worked in logistics, and tether their success to their customers’ success.

Supply chain businesses must embrace this new paradigm if they want to stay competitive in the data-driven world.

But how to make your SCM technology stack work?

identify your tech stack
  1. Identify your system of record:

Where is the operational center of gravity for your business? Which system or module does the most heavy lifting? This is the brain of your data architecture. Build around it and avoid disturbing it directly until the benefits are obvious.

  1. Find the internal customers:

Who in your organization is frustrated by dysfunctional processes and motivated to drive change? These are your champions - work with them to define needs and explore technical solutions that might address them.

  1. Roll out problem-solving tools:

Which software seems to meet your needs? Cast the net wide. Talk to the vendors and challenge them on support, stability, and the transferability of data between their product and your system of record.

  1. Connect the data streams together:

What information can these new tools generate that has strategic value? Get that data flowing into your system of record and vice-versa. Ask the vendors to help, or look into specialized API development services.

  1. Turn metrics into knowledge:

How can the data produced by these connections guide decision-making? Make those insights easy to access and easy to understand. Look for the gaps and fill them, working gradually towards end-to-end visibility.

Want to get started right away with a low-risk, high-reward project?
Talk to DataDocks about optimizing your shipping and receiving processes

What about IT and Procurement?

In recent years, each of the apparent advantages of consolidating software purchases with a single supplier has evaporated:

Continuity: It used to be considered safer to buy from legacy technology vendors because of their known reputation, and the stability of their businesses. But nowadays it’s common for these companies to discontinue certain services to encourage their customers to adopt new products and contract types.

Licensing and Asset Management: Traditionally, the key to simple compliance and provisioning was to work with as few vendors as possible. Today, such concerns apply only to those old vendors. Modern SaaS companies offer painless contracts, do not audit, and make it easy to self-serve additional seats or capacity, or to cancel.

Support: Gone are the days when you could rely on an account manager from one of the big software companies to pull out all the stops to ensure your success. To get that kind of partnership now, you have to go to a newer vendor. They tend to be experts not just in how their product works in theory, but in practice.

Data Architecture: Smaller suppliers are usually enthusiastic about working together to help their customers succeed. API technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, driven in part by web 2.0. Ironically, it’s often easier to get software from different vendors talking to each other than two tools from a single vendor.

future wms and servers

Case in point: Loading Dock Operations

We at DataDocks make software that helps optimize shipping and receiving processes at facilities.

The engine driving this change is dock scheduling: get carriers to book appointments in advance through a dashboard and you can eliminate the line of trucks outside the gate, spread loads throughout the day and get better at predicting timings.

Line up of trucks

Do you have a line of trucks outside your facility, going all the way down the road?

On paper, many warehouse or transportation management systems include some kind of dock scheduling. But it tends to be an afterthought…

Shipping and receiving coordinators are often left relying on a jumble of excel spreadsheets to track incoming and outgoing loads.

Typically, when a company starts using DataDocks it does not make any immediate changes to its software architecture. Instead, DataDocks acts as a streamlined interface for communicating with carriers and planning workflows in the loading dock. Soon enough it can feed data back into the system of record, be it a WMS, TMS or something else.

“The real winner with this browser based service is its simplicity and logical use. I do not mean code logic, I do mean logical user flow… The UI is clean and straightforward.”

Marvin Feige, GSK - Review of DataDocks

Closing Thoughts

In the early 2000s, supply chain businesses trusted legacy software vendors to support them and act as innovation partners. Many came to regret it. Companies found themselves unable to escape from punitive contracts, paying for systems that quickly depreciated and ceased to be fit for purpose.

Today, operations leaders are once again under pressure to digitize. Some are hesitant to invest in yet more cumbersome technology, while the most obvious alternative - developing systems in-house - seems absurdly resource-intensive and risky.

There is a third option; one that allows companies to achieve tangible benefits in the short-term, while gradually working towards the longer-term goal of supply chain visibility. But it requires a shift in mindset, particularly with regards to procurement.

As Norm Pollock writes for TransImpact:

"Companies are no longer beholden to a large TMS or other types of technology platforms that try to be everything to everyone. Specialized logistics applications do specific things better, and data interoperability makes more systems more accessible, at a lower cost… both shippers and logistics services providers [can] build combinations of logistics applications that do exactly what they need them to do."

To learn more about integrating DataDocks at one or more of your facilities, book a demo with our team or call (+1) 647 848-8250


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