10 Ways Technology Can Improve Your Supply Chain (and Personal) Productivity

Regional Director of Business Development, Corey Wagner, is on board with full automation.
Regional Director of Business Development, Corey Wagner, is on board with full automation.

I’d be hard pressed to deny that technology consumes my life today. At this very moment, I am writing this blog while streaming music using Pandora and monitoring my email on the same device that houses all of my documents, pictures, and embarrassing videos. Cisco, one of the world’s largest technology firms, estimates that the number of mobile internet connected devices now exceeds the world’s population! This is a monumental leap over the estimated 1,000 internet devices in 1984 and is also quite scary if you have ever imagined a worldwide hostile robot takeover (come on, who hasn’t?). You probably interact with some form of technology 20 times before getting to work in the morning. Whether you are using your cell phone to catch up on the latest gossip your Facebook feed offers, or watching the morning news show on cable TV, you have become dependent on technology advancements.

But, one key question remains: are you using technology in the best possible way to improve your work life and productivity in the crazy world of supply chain logistics? Here are 10 tips that will make your day-to-day business life a little bit smoother.

  1. Use the best communication tool for the job Can you hear me now?  We’ve all been in that situation when an email is misconstrued and taken out of context. It’s not the fault of the reader (or the sender for that matter), but the simple fact remains that we’re working in a time that allows for immediate communication at all times. Immediate is convenient, but it can be very dangerous when miscommunication replaces clear communication. I encourage people to use video conferencing tools when working on a complex issue or project. Having the ability to see and hear a person’s reactions allows for better communication, and, more times than not, the message won’t be lost in translation. This is especially helpful when interacting with someone from another country. So the next time you need to communicate with a supplier, vendor, or customer, use a service like Skype or GoToMeeting, and I am confident that the information you send and receive will be more fluid, more easily interpreted, and most importantly, you’ll be able to connect with someone on a deeper level than  email alone.
  2. Have good data and access to solid analytics tools Time to get crunching…those numbers, I mean.  I have yet to meet a person who does not have to use some form of business analytics or metrics in their job. Whether monitoring inventories, performance metrics, return on investment (ROI) or cargo velocity, data and metrics are crucial in business today. You may be asking yourself, “How can I use metrics to improve my supply chain, Corey?”  Well, I’m glad you asked! How nice would it be if you could walk into your boss’s office and let her know the total freight spend for a particular timeframe or maybe how many shipments were delayed due to supplier issues or Customs exams? The key to using metrics effectively is having solid, reliable data. All the number crunching in the world will not make a difference if the data is invalid or not applicable to the analysis you are performing.  The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is a prime example of why it is important to obtain good data, which leads us to my next point.
  3. Consider a PO Management tool   POWHAT? The term “PO Management” or Purchase Order Management (POM) is thrown around a lot these days, and the truth is that the path to managing purchase orders effectively can vary greatly depending on several factors. Someone may consider PO management as simply knowing what SKUs are in a particular container.  Others may consider it to be full integration with a supplier’s systems to know exactly when a PO was initiated and fulfilled. Nevertheless, a purchase order management system will streamline a supply chain in numerous ways. A reliable POM system allows you to hold suppliers accountable for delayed or missed orders and can also provide you with the solid data needed for end of the year metrics. Not only you have access to endless amounts of data, you also have greater visibility over your supply chain – which ultimately equals being able to serve your customers more effectively. Some companies think that the investment in a POM system is not worth the time or money, but in reality, the increased productivity typically outweighs the overall cost.
  4. Use shipment tracking tools to your advantage Where in the world is my shipment?  We’ve all received a call from an angry customer wondering where his products are or one from your own sales representatives who is being pushed by the end customer for the information.  We’ve all been in that boat (pun intended), but your vital information is just a click away.  The key is to ask for the world (pun intended) from your transportation providers. I’ve seen people use everything from hand written reports to calendars to keep up with shipments!  Do they hate themselves and feel they must be punished? There are more efficient and simple ways to collect and evaluate your information. Having access and using an online platform to track your shipments is step one.  Step two is to dream big and ask a lot of your transportation partners.   When you have key shipment information available at your fingertips, you serve your customers better, you support other internal departments better, and you make your own life better!
  5. Use Excel to excel Becoming a Microsoft Excel guru not only makes your job easier, it will also impress the people you support and report to at your company. You more than likely know how to calculate the sum of a column or some of the other basic mathematical functions within Excel, but your boss may be more impressed if you could show them the ROI for a particular project or maybe the lead time needed to ensure the customer receives a shipment in time based on production schedules and transit times. Turning raw data into intuitive charts and tables is something that can be achieved pretty easily as well.  By having extensive knowledge of Microsoft Excel, you will make a good impression on your colleagues and it WILL make your day-to-day work life easier. So get online or pick up a book to hone your Excel skills to become a guru, and you will be sure to excel.
  6. Go paperless What are these things called newspapers?  A recent article I read speculated that newspapers would become obsolete in the U.S. by the year 2017. This is due to various factors including access to online information through phones, tablets, and other internet devices, but I think the trend is going to spill over to other aspects of life and business. With companies starting “green” campaigns and people becoming more environmentally conscious, now is the best time rid yourself of the unnecessary paperwork pilling up on your desk. Let’s be honest, you probably have a stack of unneeded paper somewhere in your office right now, but I won’t judge you. Reducing clutter and moving to electronic documents storage can streamline your work flow and make filing documents easier so that locating a particular file can be a breeze. Just make sure to back up your files!
  7. Reach for the cloud with online storage It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman! No, it’s just your files floating in the cloud. If you are not familiar with the cloud, it is an online repository to store your files so they can be easily accessed (as long as you have an internet connection). I can’t count the number of times I’ve been traveling or away from my computer and I needed a particular file for a presentation or meeting. By using the cloud, you’re able to keep all important documents at your fingertips, work on projects with a team without the need for multiple versions of a file – plus, telling your boss that a file is in the cloud sounds pretty neat, if you ask me. At the end of the day, keeping a virtual filing cabinet can help you reduce the need for hard copies, and can give you 24/7 access to your files. Up, up, and away we go!
  8. Stay current: Information is your friend Now, I know what you are thinking, “I already stay late and I’m not able to finish of my work as it is. How am I supposed to find time to stay informed?” Well, there’s no easy answer, and the bottom line is that you must find time to stay informed about changes in our industry to be the best at what you do. Try to spend at least an hour a week reading about the changes in the transportation industry or new Customs regulations. Some of my favorite websites to visit frequently are the Journal of Commerce, American Shipper, and last but not least, Shapiro Says (shameless plug). Knowledge is power, and you’ll be able to make decisions more effectively if you have additional resources in your arsenal.  When I started in this industry, my soon to be boss told me, “No single person knows everything about this industry.  You’ll learn something new every day, and as soon as you have something down pat, there will be regulatory changes and you will have to start all over.”  Encouraging, right? Don’t let that stop you from staying current with industry news because I guarantee that’s what your competition is doing.
  9. Get social: Let your inner social butterfly roam Currently, there’s a staggering 1.19 billion active users across the world on Facebook. Whether or not you are one of these people is not important. The important factor here is that using social media can be an effective tool for staying up-to-date on important current issues, networking with industry professionals, and connecting on a deeper level with customers. Don’t get me wrong, if you spend all day commenting on how bad of a day your friend Suzy is having, your boss probably won’t be too happy. When used correctly, tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can help you make better connections with customers, suppliers, and vendors. These platforms can also be invaluable by providing snapshots of information that may be important to you.
  10. Work remotely: Working in pajamas has never felt so right While studies have shown that some people would perform best in an office environment, try to look at your options for working remotely. Researchers speculate that working remotely can reduce the stress caused by commuting, promote work-life balance, and increase productivity. In most cases, it is possible for someone to do their job remotely, and if you are one of those people, I strongly urge you to join me in celebrating Pajamas Friday. In recent studies, some companies saw a 36% increase in productivity from employees who worked remotely, and if your boss wants to see the proof, give me a call and I’ll send over the article. I hope some of these tips will help make your job and life easier, but please let me know below if there are any tips you’d like to add.

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-- Corey Wagner
Marketing Strategy Specialist