If businesses needed a reminder of the growing prominence of supply-chain management in the e-commerce era, the image of Amazon drones delivering orders on network television this year likely provided it.
The Internet sales giant has proven the importance of streamlining the flow of products across the globe even as it introduces further automated efficiencies and digital tools to rush goods faster and more cheaply to customers than ever.
For many businesses, competing in the digital marketplace now increasingly requires what managers call an “omnichannel” supply chain capable of delivering inventory seamlessly across multiple platforms.
It allows customers to order goods from a computer or mobile device and pick them up at a store or have them delivered to their home, while at the same time giving the retailer the ability to stock only what it needs to sell at that moment.
To operate omnichannel, manufacturers, retailers and distributors all need to work together to manage inventory on a “just-in-time” basis. Because retailers don’t want to operate shipping networks, manufacturers or third-party firms often offer fulfillment services that have to appear to the customer like they are coming from the retailer.
And it’s not just for retailers.
Business-to-business companies use the same concepts to connect networks of vendors and suppliers all the way from raw-material procurement to the finished product.
“Omnichannel is largely driven by mobile technology and customers’ expectation to receive anything, anytime from anywhere, seamlessly,” said Teresa McCarthy, associate professor of marketing and global supply-chain management at Bryant University, which is co-hosting the upcoming Supply Chain Management Summit on Aug. 21.
Omnichannel is just one of the new concepts driving advances in supply-chain efficiency and expected to be hot topics at the summit, now in its seventh year since being created by Cheryl Snead, CEO of North Smithfield supply-chain-management company Banneker Industries.
In addition to the omnichannel marketplace, which will be the subject of three summit sessions, including a keynote, topics at the summit include the cutting-edge technologies making high-speed distribution possible, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, health care supply chains and global macro-economic risk.
Where last year’s summit had grown to 18 breakout sessions, this year organizers have brought it back down to 12 to provide more time and depth on each topic.
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