Preparing the Supply Chain for Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is perhaps best explained as the implementation of new technologies to accelerate operations, sales and customer service, back office productivity and, ultimately, the growth of the business from end-to-end.

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Editor’s Note: Kevin McGirl is president of sales-i

Supply chain management has improved leaps and bounds in the past two decades thanks to advancements in logistics, infrastructure, communications and IT. Key industries have proven adaptable and resilient through times of economic uncertainty, but they are now faced with a different type of challenge – digital transformation.

Digital transformation is perhaps best explained as the implementation of new technologies to accelerate operations, sales and customer service, back office productivity and, ultimately, the growth of the business from end-to-end.

Customers – who, when talking about the supply chain, can mean suppliers, channel partners, distributors, wholesalers, retailers or the end-consumers - are more educated and empowered than ever before. This means that they can move faster, do more research, and have often made up their mind on what they'd like to buy before they even engage with you. Consequently, companies in the supply chain must be able to match them in their agility and digital prowess at every stage of the buying journey.

Enhanced day-to-day insight and productivity is crucial to maximizing the opportunities that exist within supply chain management. When you first start delving into the world of new technology it can feel overwhelming. Highlighted here are the key technology trends will be key to achieving digital transformation success.

Big data

Industry experience and good old fashioned gut instinct tend to have a hand in driving important company decisions. But consider adding big data analysis to the equation and you have a powerful trio of factors to guide decisions.

Data analytics and reporting capabilities, which are often built into CRM and BI systems, can keep track of customer buying patterns and identify any up- or cross-selling opportunities. This eliminates the need for guesswork or cold-calls. For example, salespeople can be notified if there's a sudden dip in spending. That way, they can call the customer in good time and resolve any issues that may have occurred.

You don't need to quickly go and hire a data scientist, either. Data analytics are now much more sophisticated and easier to understand than they once were. Sales, marketing and customer service teams can navigate user-friendly software that help them process and interpret the information with simple clarity.


Research from sales-i showed that 17% of salespeople battle with manual data entry, 9.5% use outdated spreadsheets for reporting and analysis and 6% feel inadequately prepared for sales meetings. Allocating time and manpower to manage these tasks is an archaic and inefficient use of resources. In the modern business environment, many software applications already use task bots to automate data entry, reporting, and the collation of information for meetings.

In the coming years, automation will transform the workplace even further and free employees from the burden of administration. This is a good thing – it means employees will be able to prioritize work such as building customer relationships, promoting your company's brand, reassessing pricing structures, and closing deals to hit targets.


Another piece of research from sales-i looked at major trends in manufacturing and distribution. It found that 61% of those in the industry see automation as an opportunity, and 70% said the same of e-commerce. However, the rest are either ambivalent, or openly view these innovations as a threat to their current ways of working. It's encouraging that respondents are seeking to take advantage of the expanded reach that digital sales channels can offer.

The elephant in the room is whether e-commerce will encourage manufacturers to sell directly to the end consumer, thus eliminating the need for any intermediaries in the supply chain, like suppliers and distributors. While it's probably unrealistic to completely stop this from happening, those who could be affected should show a willingness to adapt to this new model of selling and find new ways to add value in the face of it.

Embracing digital transformation

Most people will acknowledge the importance of data and are happy to make use of insights. However, they can often treat it as if it's the sole responsibility of the IT department. On the contrary, data governance can and should involve every department that has contact with customers in some shape or form: sales, marketing, customer service, and operations being only the most obvious.

The main barrier however tends to be a lack of education. In our experience, this can easily be defeated with some internal, company-wide awareness campaigns. Once teams are taught about the ways that technology can improve their productivity they are much more enthusiastic, and much less apprehensive.

Technology roadmaps can be a useful tool to transition your company to a more data-driven approach. They don't have to be huge undertakings that require a lot of time, but they do need to include:

1. A realistic description of how you aim to improve your current situation with technology.
2. The technology and/or software that you will need to achieve the aims outlined above.
3. A clear idea of who will be affected by the implementation process, and how they will use the technology to achieve their specific objectives

As mentioned above, user training and mentorship schemes can also go a long way to help your team feel more familiar and comfortable with using the technology. Ultimately, they need to feel a part of the process to embrace it.
All companies in the supply chain have something to gain from digital transformation. That means the whole business needs to be on board.


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