by Rob Consoli, Chief Revenue Officer at Liaison Technologies
Today’s consumers want what they want when they want it. They’re becoming increasingly accustomed to instant gratification, to the ease of a one-click purchase for an item that arrives the next day — or that can be picked up at a retail store immediately. But while that arrangement is all upside for consumers, it creates enormous challenges for retailers, who must rely on complex global supply chains to deliver the goods needed to keep customers coming back for more.
For retailers, providing the ultra-responsive customer experience today’s consumers expect can be a key differentiator in a competitive marketplace. But the logistical requirements can be incredibly complex, especially for retailers who work with vendors and partners across multiple countries and numerous manufacturing sites that serve a substantial number of retail outlets.
The Danger of Data Silos — Lost Sales
To keep retail operations humming along, with adequate stock levels at all retail stores, participants up and down the supply chain need a centralized system for order tracking, confirmation and invoices. But too often, distributors use their own enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems as well as multiple warehouses for storing and shipping products from manufacturers to retailers.
And distributors are just one piece of the puzzle: In too many retail supply chains, distributor and manufacturer systems are completely unconnected with the retailer’s ERP systems. Dozens of disconnected systems make it nearly impossible for anyone in the supply chain to centrally view and process the data each system generates. Multiple data silos make supply chain operations more costly, confusing and inefficient for all involved, which can negatively affect the retailer’s bottom line. It’s vitally important from a retailer’s point of view for manufacturers to be able to ship items in a timely manner so the retailer can get the right product to the right customer at the right time.
That requires accurate forecasts, but data silos make it difficult (if not impossible) to generate accurate forecasts. This results in lost sales. In retail terms, this can manifest as understocking of popular items and overstocking of items that don’t sell as well, which results in lost sales and the return of unsold items. This is an expense for everyone involved.
Pre-sales data helps manufacturers estimate the amount of stock to produce and deliver so that they can meet retailer demand — and so that retailers in turn can meet customer demand. Businesses involved in the supply chain can grow and prosper in the short term without the data that helps them accurately estimate demand, but antiquated, disconnected systems are a long-term risk to profitability.
New Approach to Integration and Data Management to the Rescue
Data silos are a danger to long-term profits, but fortunately, there is a solution: a new unified approach to integration and management that combines both workflows on a single cloud-based platform. With the right integration and data management platform — one capable of handling unstructured information — companies can consolidate data at each step in the supply chain. A unified platform allows retailers and vendors to integrate and manage product data in a central location, including multiple SKUs and product attributes like size, color, etc., sharing information across the entire supply chain in real time.
With a platform that can function as a data translator between global manufacturers and retail partners, operations can be streamlined, and the retailer’s job becomes that much easier. For example, in one use case, the implementation of a cloud-based data integration and management platform allowed a manufacturer to consolidate and integrate approximately 50 inventory management systems on a single system, enabling data to flow freely across the supply chain.
In that case, the use of a unified platform also made it simpler for the manufacturer to bring new retail partners on board quickly and integrate global supplier data. As a result, retailers received shipping information when items left the factory, delivering much-needed insight. The integration and data management platform also yielded much more detailed information, so that the manufacturer could track over- and under-deliveries more closely and pass that vital data to retail partners, allowing them to manage customer expectations more efficiently and effectively.
Collaboration Across the Supply Chain
With more intelligent forecasting capabilities, companies at every step on the supply chain benefit, including retailers. Sales and operations professionals can identify trends much sooner and respond in a more agile manner. And with the ability to break out sales data by location and region, companies can see changes coming and respond more quickly to meet demand.
An additional benefit that an innovative integration and data management platform delivers is the ability to ingest data in multiple forms. This eliminates the need for local representatives to manually enter information into a system, saving time while also reducing the errors that inevitably arise from manual data entry. It also streamlines data transfers across retail devices throughout the network, ensuring that the process is faster, easier and more efficient for everyone involved.
In addition, companies are able to work more efficiently with small manufacturers and suppliers. That’s a significant advantage in a highly competitive retail environment that has seen retailers gravitate to smaller sources in a bid to hold the line on costs and access niche products. While these smaller companies are unlikely to have robust technology resources
onsite, “data translator” functionality and the ability to ingest data in multiple formats can enable quick integration of the smaller partner’s information.
The Bottom Line on Data Integration
As the economy becomes more data-driven, leaders across all industries are increasingly recognizing that data is the true currency of business — the driver of innovation, insight and agility. That’s certainly true in the retail sector, where customer expectations have been shaped by innovative retailers who’ve used data to personalize outreach and deliver products with speed and accuracy that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. An omnichannel strategy is a necessity for retailers in a data-driven economy, as the demise of so many traditional retail outlets illustrates. To gain customer loyalty across multiple channels, retailers must have clean customer data and access to information in siloed applications across business units.
Retailers who want to compete and win in this new economy must use their own data effectively. However, since their operations depend on many players up and down the supply chain, they’ll also require new ways to collaborate with vendors and manufacturers, frequently in the context of a complex global supply chain. That requires a solution that enables them to break down data silos, accurately predict demand and respond quickly. The retail holy grail — the ability to deliver the right item to the right customer at the right time — is within reach, and a cloud-based integration and data management platform that drives better supply chain performance gives retailers the power to make it their own.
About the Author
Rob Consoli is Chief Revenue Officer for Liaison Technologies, which provides integration and data management solutions to help customers unlock the power of a data-centric approach to their business. He is responsible for Liaison's overall revenue strategy, which includes overseeing U.S. Sales and Global Marketing. Liaison’s cloud-based approach breaks down the barriers between data silos to tap into the valuable information needed to make better decisions, faster. Tailored to solve complex data problems today while building a robust foundation for tomorrow’s unforeseen challenges, Liaison fosters a seamless flow of information securely and at scale. For more information, visit www.liaison.com
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