Supply Chain Leaders Boost Value With Digital Transformation

Dr. Achim Krüger

If you shop at REI and the particular store you’re at does not have the size or color of the item you want, an employee can quickly and accurately see where the closest item is located.

Thanks to the effective digitalization of the company’s supply chain processes, REI is a leader in inventory visibility across its stores and distribution centers. The right applications enable it to provide outstanding service, achieve extraordinary customer satisfaction scores, and increase revenue.

Walking the knife’s edge

But how do you find a roadmap for digital transformation that fits your organization’s specific strategy?

Like many leaders across industries, supply chain executives often feel like they’re walking a technological knife’s edge. On one hand, they want to avoid over-investing in every shiny new solution. At the same time, they don’t want to fall behind and dismiss a critical trend.

SCM World has collected data since 2014 on strategic disruption created by new technologies, and one trend is clear: The relevance of the digital shift is huge and still rising, and the pace of change is too fast to wait and see what happens.

When asked in a survey which technologies are “disruptive and important” to supply chain strategy, responses have changed dramatically in just a couple short years:

  • 3D printing has doubled, from 20% to 40%
  • Drones and self-guided vehicles have tripled, from 11% to 35%
  • Big Data analytics leads the pack, from 64% in 2014 to 81% in 2016

Innovating the way business has been done for decades

Not surprisingly, years of new technological advances have created faster and more standardized business processes. The emerging digital supply chain is lighter and more agile, and these three business model disruptions show the impact of digital operations on strategy:

  1. Omnichannel leadership: Omnichannel leadership is about recognizing that consumer demand is only partially represented in retail point-of-sale data. True demand includes usage behavior, replenishment patterns, and lifestyle impact. REI thrives in this model because its stores are only a small part of the total demand sense and supply response system the company uses to serve customers.
  1. Personalization of products and services: According to an SCM World survey, 90% of supply chain professionals agree that customers value personalized products. Data also shows a steady rise in the number of companies whose operations are supporting “much larger SKU assortments” in response to digital demand, up 60% overall in just three years.
  1. Lean, green, and precise manufacturing: The other major business model disruption arising from digital is a shift toward resource-efficient and increasingly localized manufacturing. IoT-enabled equipment can optimize energy, water, and material use, and combined with smaller, cheaper collaborative robots, this equipment makes local-for-local manufacturing a real possibility.

Creating real value for your company

Even as business models shift, new technology is meaningless if it doesn’t create real value for your company. Across all industries, enterprises need to use innovative thinking to reimagine how digital supply chains can improve business strategy and transform business models.

How do companies focus their efforts, and which ones are already leading the way?

  • Focus on service to the end customer: Digital supply chains can use the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to get products delivered to consumers faster, cheaper, and in a more personalized way than before.
  • Urban Outfitters: The retailer’s pick-from-shelf omnichannel capabilities added $9 million additional revenue in a single quarter.
  • Hilti: A maker of high-performance hand tools for construction work, Hilti has developed a comprehensive omnichannel system whose asset tracking uses smart supply chain to keep real-time information on where every tool is, allowing the company to sell more and respond to different levels of time sensitivity.
  • Focus on warehouse automation and delivery: Digitalization in delivery is also creating value in warehouse management.
  • Amazon: The retail giant uses sophisticated analytics in its fulfillment centers to optimize space utilization, minimize time to find and pick items, and shorten order-to-delivery cycle times.
  • Kiva Robots: This system, which runs the fulfilment operations for Zappos, moves items to packing stations rather than making people move around the warehouse, saving time and money and increasing item density per square foot of building space.
  • Focus on efficiency and agility: Digitalization in production improves process monitoring, control, and execution to make smaller batches of production economically.
  • Harley Davidson: The company transformed its Pennsylvania motorcycle plant from an old-school assembly line to a single-flow digital line that makes unique models one at a time. This agile manufacturing approach cut costs by 7%, increased productivity by 2.4%, and increased net margins by 19%.
  • BMW: Known for its effective manufacturing process, BMW uses smart robotics, planning, and 3D simulation software to sell custom configured automobiles at prices competitive with mass production.
  • Focus on resource optimization: Digital transformation helps reduce the cost of maintaining long-lived assets. Sensors on equipment monitor temperature, friction, and pressure to allow operators to maintain peak performance with much less work and spare parts inventory. Same time the performance of the asset system can be linked to business outcomes, influencing revenue and margin.
  • Trenitalia: The primary train operator in Italy created a smart asset management strategy that takes 5,000 signals per second from hundreds of sensors embedded in the train’s hardware and feeds them in real time into a reporting and analytics database to allow precision maintenance. The company expects to reduce maintenance spending by 8% to 10% per year, cut invested capital by 6.5%, and eliminate 10–20 million euros of penalty payments for service failures.

Across industries, the digitalization of processes and operations is changing what’s possible for supply chain practitioners. Download the full report, Smart Operations and the Internet of Things: Digital Impacts on Business Strategy, to learn more about how to offer customers a more personalized experience, where and how they want it, with less money and fewer resources spent along the way.


Dr. Achim Krüger

About Dr. Achim Krüger

Dr. Achim Krüger is Vice President of Operational Excellence (EAM and EH&S) at SAP. After starting his career as an officer with the German Air Force, he held several positions in the areas of maintenance of helicopters and transport aircraft as well as systems engineering, before he worked in higher commands as a logistics general staff officer. Joining SAP in 2002, Dr. Krüger first served as a consultant before establishing the SAP for Defense & Security industry portfolio and later assumed several other duties in Solution Management and Development,