When it comes to supply chain management, an efficient warehouse is essential for the smooth-running operation of a business. This is not just in the sense of ensuring products are stocked and logged, but that they are easy to locate within a warehouse, and can be dispatched as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Flawless fulfilment has so far been the answer to this essential business requirement, with wireless and mobile technology replacing ponderous paper processes, allowing for real-time computerised tracking and checking of products all through the picking, packing and shipping process.
However, as ecommerce continues to grow, and more businesses become reliant on products being moved around a network of warehouses or stores to meet local demand, the need for a more interconnected and transparent fullfilment process is becoming increasingly important.
Technology is now allowing for a more ‘intelligent’ warehouse operation. Automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things are all being brought together to create a more efficient and smart system, allowing for better communication and stock visibility to ensure items are available whenever and wherever they are needed.
Using these new technologies, operations managers can now monitor the real-time status of stock levels and locations while using AI and machine learning to anticipate, analyse and adapt product levels around changing ecosystems like seasonal demand, or even to anticipate future challenges caused by adverse weather conditions.
In the past, this scheduling and tracking could not be carried out in real time and warehouse managers had to wait for batches of stock to arrive before it could be identified and logged.
Customer expectations to be able to receive items ordered online on the same day means this is no longer viable and stock needs to be monitored wherever it is in the supply chain, including its transportation route.
The need to move stock around multiple locations – whether between warehouses or stores – means communication and integration has become essential and more connected technology and integration between labour management, transportation and location demand means the supply chain is able to deal with the omnichannel nature of modern commerce.
This real-time tracking also facilitates better route optimisation to ensure efficiency reigns across the business.
As a workable concept, intelligent fulfilment is still in its infancy and there are still barriers to break down until it becomes the norm.
But supply chain managers and warehouse operations are already seeing the benefits of integrating order management, real-time scheduling and accurate tracking throughout a product’s life-cycle.
It is not going to be long before customer expectations demand that intelligent fulfilment becomes the norm.