6 Questions With … Devadas Pattathil

Nextuple co-founder was instrumental in launching Walmart’s online grocery business, now is building next-generation omnichannel order management

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Devadas Pattathil is a co-founder and current head of product at Nextuple. He is a product management & technology leader with expertise spanning retail and omnichannel e-commerce, online grocery, and supply chain domains. Prior to Nextuple, Devadas spent eight years at Walmart where he was responsible for leading Walmart’s online grocery business from pilot to a multi-billion-dollar success, driving the digital customer experience through innovation in pickup, delivery, and mobile apps. Devadas was also a co-founder of Yantra and has also held positions at Sterling Commerce, Aankhen and Infosys Technologies.

Pattathil sat down to answer our 6 Questions on omnichannel and supply chain.

(Answers have been edited for clarity and length)

SCMR: Can you tell us a little about your career journey and why co-founding Nextuple was the career move that was right for you?

DEVADAS: I’ve always been interested in the startup way of thinking. I started as a software engineer at Infosys, where I helped develop WMS systems. Then, I got the chance to help start Yantra, a company that provided order management solutions, that later got bought by Sterling Commerce, which is now part of IBM. Even when I worked at Walmart.com leading product and engineering for supply chain teams, I was always drawn to creating new things. Walmart’s online grocery was a great opportunity for me to apply product and technology to turn a pilot into a huge business. Starting something new without the backing of a big company was tough, but because of my past successes and trust in my cofounders, I felt confident starting Nextuple six years ago.

SCMR: What do you consider the biggest change in supply chain from your first foray into the field to today?

DEVADAS: The fundamentals of supply chain management have remained relatively consistent over the past two to three decades. Successful enterprises have combined effective processes and technology to facilitate the efficient flow of goods and maintain optimal inventory levels at the right locations.

The advent of e-commerce, however, created a significant shift in consumer expectations toward expedited delivery and visibility throughout the supply chain. Retailers such as Walmart had to reimagine their supply chain to deliver direct-to-consumer shipments in addition to moving products to their stores. Fortunately, advancements in technology have enabled real-time tracking of every aspect of the supply chain, from the cargo containers departing ports to the picking of items by store personnel. This enhanced visibility allows organizations to proactively address supply chain disruptions and provide customers with real-time visibility.

SCMR: Customers are more demanding than ever, and seemingly less loyal. What strategies should brands be implementing to ensure products are available and can be delivered on time?

DEVADAS: Building customer loyalty is a gradual process, achieved through every interaction between the brand and the customer. A smooth shopping experience depends on knowing exactly what products are available to sell and where they are in the network. Real-time insights into the capacity of the supply chain is essential to make accurate fulfillment promises. 

Using stores to fulfill orders adds the challenge of keeping enough stock for walk-in shoppers. When third-party entities are involved in fulfillment, such as carriers and drop ship vendors, it’s vital to establish clear service level agreements (SLAs).

A seamless post-purchase experience is orchestrated through an order management system capable of prioritizing orders based on commitments made to customers while also keeping fulfillment costs low. Providing customers with near-real-time updates on their orders and equipping customer service with accurate order status are crucial for meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

SCMR: To meet some of these demands, inventory management must be on point, yet so many companies still struggle in this regard. What do you see as the biggest challenges around inventory management and how can they be solved?

DEVADAS: Throughout my career, I’ve primarily represented supply chain ISVs, encountering various inventory management approaches across retail, distribution, manufacturing, and 3PL. Successful organizations typically maintain a single, synchronized source of truth for inventory and prioritize strong auditing practices, regular reconciliation of inventory data, and a metrics-driven culture.

On the other hand, many companies struggle with disparate inventory versions used by different departments.

Given today’s high consumer expectations, real-time visibility into inventory is essential. Simply knowing where items are isn’t sufficient; understanding where they can be expected to get to at any given time is crucial for confidently making customer commitments.

Additionally, investing in an adaptable inventory planning system is critical for optimal inventory placement, especially in response to changing demand dynamics.

SCMR: Successful omnichannel fulfillment would be extremely time-consuming without technology. But even as companies struggle to implement the right technology platforms to streamline the process, now comes artificial intelligence. Where does AI fit into the omnichannel fulfillment operation today?

DEVADAS: While omnichannel retailers initially focused on using AI for consumer-facing services like product search, pricing, and personalization, we’re now seeing AI and machine learning changing how orders are fulfilled.

Given today’s high consumer expectations, real-time visibility into inventory is essential. Simply knowing where items are isn’t sufficient; understanding where they can be expected to get to at any given time is crucial for confidently making customer commitments.

Firstly, AI can help predict demand patterns by analyzing signals that were previously inaccessible such as the global economy, government policies, weather and significant events. Predicting demand accurately is crucial for placing inventory in the right locations and making optimal decisions about fulfilling orders.

Some other applications of AI in fulfillment:

  • Informing stores of the safety stock they should maintain to avoid running out of products
  • Giving insights to help decide where to source orders from to reduce the risk of backorders
  • Improving turns by prioritizing slow moving inventory for order fulfillment
  • Balancing fulfillment network capacity
  • Carrier selection use based on past performance
  • Batching orders together for the best route for picking and packing

SCMR: Fulfillment is a coordinated effort that involves many departments—from sales and marketing to logistics, and even suppliers. Yet, companies continue to struggle in this regard. What do you see as the biggest challenges to successful fulfillment?

DEVADAS: Setting clear goals across the organization, including suppliers and third parties, is essential for efficient order fulfillment. Misaligned objectives, like when sales focus only on revenue while supply chain aims for lower costs, can hinder success.

For instance, if the company aims to deliver high-demand items to customers within three days on average, this objective should translate into:

  • Planners strategically placing inventory to ensure customers can receive orders within three days.
  • Sales channels promising three-day delivery to shoppers.
  • Order management prioritizing locations and carriers that can guarantee timely delivery.
  • Fulfillment teams expediting orders for these items.
  • Managing service level agreements with vendors or third-party logistics providers to meet the company's goal.
  • Clear objectives build accountability throughout the organization, crucial for successful order fulfillment.

SCMR: Thank you

SC
MR

Devadas Pattahil helped launch Walmart’s online grocery business. Now he is seeking to disrupt omnichannel order management.
(Photo: Getty Images/Nextuple)
Devadas Pattahil helped launch Walmart’s online grocery business. Now he is seeking to disrupt omnichannel order management.
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About the Author

Brian Straight, SCMR Editor in Chief
Brian Straight's Bio Photo

Brian Straight is the Editor in Chief of Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered trucking, logistics and the broader supply chain for more than 15 years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children. He can be reached at [email protected], @TruckingTalk, on LinkedIn, or by phone at 774-440-3870.

View Brian's author profile.

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