Web-Based Technology in Supply Chain

Introduction

Technology plays a central role in the supply chain, for it ensures efficient and effective transmission of information, distribution of products, inventory management, and communication between customers, suppliers, and manufacturers. Moreover, technology optimizes productivity, reduces operational costs, and simplifies the complexity of the supply chain. Supply chains in the modern world rely on technology to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors and expanding their market share. Chapman, Arnold, Gatewood, and Clive (2017) argue that technology is applicable in every aspect of the supply chain network. It eliminates human errors and improves the accuracy of inventory management. The supply chain analysis reveals that technology has permeated every aspect and has become an integral part of the chain. Hence, the research paper examines the application of technology in the supply chain by focusing on web-based technologies, communication, visibility, analytics, and automation.

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Web-Based Technologies

Web-based technologies are important for it allows manufacturers, suppliers, and customers to interact with the supply chain in scheduling and tracking products. Fundamentally, the World Wide Web offers a versatile network for communication, promotion, and distribution of products worldwide. Supply chains that utilize web-based applications take advantage of the Internet network, which spans an extensive geographical network and reaches diverse people who can access the Internet. The exploitation of the Internet has led to the emergence of e-supply chain management (e-SCM), which allows customers, distribution centers, manufacturers, and suppliers to interact through the virtual supply chain network created by the Internet (Zakir, Rehman, & Rehman, 2016). The virtual supply chain improves the efficiency of the supply chain operations because it eases communication and information sharing among parties involved.

Given that the supply chain’s role is to link customers to manufacturers and suppliers, web-based technologies provide versatile and integrated systems that improve linkages. According to Kunjir and Gage (2016), web-based technologies allow customers to make purchases and enable manufacturers and suppliers to make appropriate inventories and schedule supplies. These technologies include enterprise resource planning, enterprise application integration, customer relationship management, collaborative product commerce, and self-service applications. Shannak (2016) asserts that enterprise resource management tools are the backbone of the supply chain because it balances supply and demand and optimizes products’ distribution among various warehouses and distribution centers. Supply chains that utilize enterprise management systems linked to the Internet have the upper hand in the competitive markets to interact with customers across the globe.

Communication

Communication is a critical factor in the supply chain and is a requirement at every stage. Right from production to consumption of a particular product, communication plays a vital role. Producers, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers of a given good or service need timely communication to make the process efficient and timely. Communication platforms such as mobile phones, emails, Skype, and YouTube have made communication easy and convenient. With the advent of these platforms of communication introduced by technology, management of the operations in supply chains is now within reach of managers and supervisors. Lehmacher (2017) explains that using computers and smartphones, stakeholders involved in a particular supply chain can monitor all the operations from the comfort of their rooms. As such, technology has made communication convenient and eased the management of supply chain operations.

Consequently, with advanced technology, individuals can communicate and ensure that products reach the intended destination in their right quality and quantities. In Ross’s (2016) perspective, timely communication facilitated by technology enables suppliers and producers to undertake their operations on time and minimize instances of delays common in the past. In contemporary societies, producers can reach the suppliers and receive the required raw materials within a short period instead of the past when communication was time-consuming. Moreover, technology makes it easy for stakeholders involved in a particular supply chain to receive feedback on time. It is imperative to explain that through communication, consumers can interactively present their suggestions. This phenomenon helps organizations to assess their performance and make the requisite modifications in line with consumer expectations.

Visibility

Shippers and third-party logistics (3PLs) firms achieve adequate supply chain (SC) visibility through purpose-built systems for order tracking and real-time forecast of market shifts/trends. Supply chain visibility helps achieve efficiency and responsiveness through integrated technologies. 3PLs use solutions with “automated track and trace” capabilities for the inbound and outbound event (Mahadevan, 2015, p. 49). The enhanced event monitoring improves supply chain visibility and performance. Examples of track and trace features used by leaders in this sector include GS1 barcodes, cross-docking, auto-ID at pallet/unit-level, and global data synchronization network (GDSN) (Mahadevan, 2015). Firms have also adopted the RFID technology to track and trace inbound/outbound events and support shipment visibility (Khan, Qianli, & Zhang, 2016). The RFID data give valuable information about the identity of the shipment, its position based on coordinates, and storage conditions.

Players also deploy service-oriented architecture (SOA) to synchronize demand with supply chains/supplier plans. The technology integrates repetitive “component business services,” enabling firms to match demand with supply in real-time and achieve optimal inventory levels (Mahadevan, 2015). Thus, SOA leads to improved responsiveness to market and operational forces and lower the lag time through real-time visibility of a logistic event. It also supports flexibility in response to SC shifts through end-to-end visibility. Greater inventory visibility can be achieved by deploying collaboration software, i.e., Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. This solution supports vendor-managed inventory, whereby order generation depends on demand levels reported by the distributor (Mahadevan, 2015). An ERP component, the Transportation Management System, enhances the visibility of the transport operations.

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Analytics

Supply chain analytics entails utilizing big data for decision-making to acquire competitive advantages (Mahadevan, 2015). Advanced analytics involve technologies with great modeling capabilities for accurate demand forecasts. Therefore, the focus is on coming up with better decisions based on the analysis of supply-chain data. Advanced analytics are provided through solutions such as service-as-a-software (SaaS) and other platforms like ERP. Big data analytics are applied in supply chain planning (demand forecast), procurement, ensuring correct production levels, and real-time logistics management (Liu, Prajogo, & Oke, 2016). Descriptive analytics is a subset of advanced analytics used to paint a picture of the SC situation based on mined data. The technology also supports visualization of the data forms, alerts, and standard reports.

In contrast, predictive analytics gives a forecast of probable business situations based on the analysis of real-time or archived data (Liu et al., 2016). The technology relies on machine-learning algorithms and mining data to make valid predictions. Advanced forecasting is an example of predictive analytics utilized in supply chain management (SCM) to predict sales. Another subtype of analytics called prescriptive analytics relies on the demand forecasts to give suggestions or proposals (Liu et al., 2016). The same technology can be used to avert undesirable business situations or uncertainties based on what/if scenarios. Firms use prescriptive analytics to optimize their supply chains through simulations. Big data analytics have been deployed in specific applications such as Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) to facilitate SCM data analysis.

Automation

To minimize labor and energy, stakeholders in several supply chains are now switching to the concept of automation. Although supply chains are yet to enjoy the benefits accrued from full automation, the gradual transformation occasioned by partial automation is evident. Various processes in production, supply, manufacturing, and distribution sectors are continually utilizing robotics to execute their operations. Rose (2016) explains that some of the aspects, which compel stakeholders to use robotics in several operations undertaken in the supply chain, include precision, speed, minimization of labor, energy, cost, and efficiency. Unlike human employees, robots are fast and undertake their duties with accuracy. Moreover, speed characterizes automated supply chains as opposed to those handled by employees.

On the other hand, automation also improves the quality of services delivered to end consumers. Due to the level of precision and speed of automated supply chains, consumers enjoy the respective organizations’ products. Scarsi and Cepolina (2016) foresee a future characterized by crewless vehicles, vessels, and industries that operate under minimal human supervision. Currently, robots have become common in places like China, the United States, and some parts of Europe where they execute commercial and domestic duties. Another aspect that catalyzes the importance of automated machines is the need to reduce strikes and go-slows, which at times hamper the overall supply chains’ overall effectiveness. Unlike human employees, robotics and automated machines do not strike, and with good maintenance, the machines can work without breaking down or malfunctioning frequently.

Conclusion

The examination of technology’s role in the supply chain indicates that it plays a central role in aspects such as web-based technologies, communication, visibility, analytics, and automation. These aspects have become the backbone for they drive operations and logistics of the supply chain. Fundamentally, supply chains use web-based applications, communication, and visibility to improve their online presence and interact with customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and warehouses effectively. Analytics provides information for decision-making, while automation allows the transportation of products.

References

Chapman, S., Arnold, J., Gatewood, A., & Clive, L. (2017). Introduction to Materials Management. New York, NY: Pearson Education.

Khan, S., Qianli, D., & Zhang, Y. (2016). Usage of RFID technology in supply chain: Benefits and challenges. International Journal of Applied Engineering Research, 11(5), 3720-3727.

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Kunjir, S., & Gage, V. (2016). To study the scope of e-business and its applications in the era of e-commerce. International Journal on Recent and Innovation Trends in Computing and Communications, 4(1), 286-289.

Lehmacher, W. (2017). Global supply chain: Technology, transformation and circular economy. New York, NY: Springer Verlag.

Liu, Z., Prajogo, D., & Oke, A. (2016). Supply chain technologies: Linking adoption, utilization, and performance. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 52(4), 22-41.

Mahadevan, K. (2015). Collaborative supply chain through integration, visibility, and information sharing: The antidote for supply chain myopia. An International Journal of Business & Economics, 10(1), 48-57.

Ross, D. (2016). Introduction to e-supply chain management: Engaging technology to build market-winning business partnerships. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Scarsi, R., & Cepolina, S. (2016). Technology innovation enabling supply chain management sustainability. A framework for the apparel industry. International Journal of Technology Transfer and Commercialization, 14(2), 196-213.

Shannak, R. (2016). The impact of implementing an enterprise resource planning system on organizational performance using balanced scorecard. Journal of Management Research, 8(1), 37-54.

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Zakir, F., Rehman, A., and Rehman, Z. (2016). Effects of e-supply chain management on the business process of airline industry. International Journal of Management Sciences and Business Research, 5(7), 122-124.

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