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NRF 2024: Supply Chain Data

By January 23, 2024Uncategorized

Last week I attended the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show in New York City. This year, nearly 40,000 attendees comprising 6,200 brands from all over the world headed to the Javits Center to see what new solutions and innovations software and hardware suppliers had in store for 2024 and beyond. The usual themes were still very present as solution providers and retailers alike were more than happy to talk about omni-channel, mobility, robotics, and machine learning, to name a few. This year, a recurring theme that I saw was about using supply chain data to improve the customer experience across the entire value chain.

Throughout the conference I met with several software and hardware providers to get a glimpse into what they were showcasing. Here are the ones that stood out to me, especially as it relates to supply chain data.

Blue Yonder

Blue Yonder highlighted that with the move to a single data cloud, the company has synchronized execution of its entire portfolio. The single data cloud runs on Snowflake, one of Blue Yonder’s partners. Snowflake is a cloud computing–based data cloud company that offers a cloud-based data storage and analytics service, generally termed “data-as-a-service .” Within the data cloud, rather than having data move to specific applications such as TMS, WMS, or SCP, the applications move to the data.

With its OMS, Blue Yonder is reimagining the end-to-end customer experience at all digital touchpoints. The most interesting thing that Blue Yonder is doing from an OMS standpoint is driving promising and pre-sourcing to retailers. The company can connect all aspects of the execution process, including labor cost and capacity, warehouse capacity, and shipping, and then integrating all of this data into their data cloud platform for a holistic view of OMS, TMS, and WMS. The end result is driving better decisions for the retail customer.

Blue Yonder also acquired Doddle to close the loop on reverse logistics. Returns are clearly a big problem in retail, especially after the holiday season. The old method was for parcel shippers to process and return one item at a time, which was incredibly expensive. When a customer initiates a return through Doddle, they are asked specific questions about the condition of the item and packaging, given choices on how and where to return it, and also given a sustainability impact of the return. This allows the retailers to eliminate wasted miles and get the item into the appropriate location for re-sale.

Manhattan Associates

As part of its Active Omni platform, Manhattan showcased a new feature called the Fulfillment Insights Dashboard. This dashboard gives insights to allow retailers to compare fulfillment performance against their peers and competitors. The data is all anonymous, but retailers can look at metrics such as time to fulfill, pack time, conversions, and ship versus pick-up, to name a few, across hundreds of Active Omni customers. While retailers know how they are doing from a performance standpoint, they generally do not know how they stack up. This new dashboard gives retailers a lot of supply chain data to see where they stand.

Manhattan is also focusing a lot of effort on customer service, specifically self-service customer service. The company has a chat bot for tracking and managing an order that is natively built in the OMS. Customers are able to make edits to an order later in the process. In some cases, a customer can cancel or change the shipping location after the item has been picked and packed.

Manhattan also spoke about returns, as they use their routing optimization engine for returns. The optimization engine allows the retailer to best decide where an item should be returned based on cost and the ability to quickly get it back into a selling channel. With the ever-evolving seasonality of SKUs, retailers can quickly get a returned item to an outlet for an end of season sale.

Kinaxis

In the Kinaxis booth, the big push is for concurrent planning for retail. This is not a term that is heard in retail very often, but concurrent planning links execution plans, the plan for what will be made the next few days or weeks, to the longer-term financial plans, often called integrated business plan. As new short-term plans are created, the linkage to the revenue and profitability goals based on the initial IBP plan becomes instantly visible.

For Kinaxis, concurrent planning for retail is all about end-to-end orchestration from plan through delivery. Changes in supply or demand are considered when looking at the overall supply chain planning process, and the changes are reflected in real-time. Kinaxis allows retailers to create a digital twin for scenario planning. Retailers can make changes to the lead times, predict supply chain disruptions, change a store to an e-commerce site, and see what will happen across the supply chain network. These scenarios run a real plan using the retailers’ supply chain data, and enables them to quantify the impact in real-time, and these changes can then be applied to the master supply chain plan.

Kinaxis is focusing on the QSR industry first, looking at replenishment for both food and the necessary durable goods. The example they gave me was to understand the yield for a burger with pickles at a QSR. If only 70 percent of burger orders use pickles, this changes the replenishment model for both items. By running what if scenarios in a digital twin, the retailer can maximize the yield when replenishing both ingredients.

Zebra Technologies and FourKites

The Zebra Technologies booth highlighted a number of supply chain-focused partnerships, including an e-commerce packing and sortation conveyor and AI powered inventory management application. The packing and sortation solution is powered by Peak, and uses a scan tunnel equipped with multiple Zebra cameras. The cameras grab an image of the package as it goes through the tunnel, gets dimensional and weight information, matches that data up with the order, and can also check compliance documentation. The analytics engine can show the retailer trendlines for orders and can be set up for individual scan tunnels or across the entire network.

Zebra also showcased a partnership with FourKites, using the latter’s real-time visibility platform for labor management integration. The integration specifically aligns with Workcloud Task Management and Workcloud Scheduling applications to optimize workforce management and task execution, and to better engage frontline workers. This integration enables real-time mobile updates from FourKites’ live tracking details to quickly update labor schedules and assign related tasks based on shipment arrival times. The solution helps retailers lower labor costs by avoiding overtime pay and penalties for last-minute shift cancellations and creates an elevated customer experience. Moreover, retailers can maximize on-shelf availability of inventory by ensuring that labor is available to unload trucks and stock shelves as soon as an incoming shipment arrives.

Infor Nexus

Infor Nexus showcased its capabilities around supply chain visibility for supply chain disruptions and customs clearance. One of the more interesting aspects is their visibility application and looking at how disruptions impact the overall supply chain. The ongoing issues in the Red Sea are wreaking havoc on ocean shipping. Infor is able to use its visibility application to dynamically update ETAs and look at the impact on inventory. Specifically, retailers can click into a shipment to see what inventory is in the shipments where that shipment is going and can prioritize where that inventory should go while still on the ship. This allows for allocation of inventory to stores and warehouses before it has been unloaded, making it possible for retailers to update their inventory plans more quickly.

There are other components of supply chain data that Infor is prioritizing. With new regulations around customs, retailers will need to prove that everything in a container came from where it says it came from. Within the Infor app, retailers can pull all supplier information for a container, which provides all the necessary documentation for customs. Infor is also embedding generative AI capabilities for queries; instead of filtering data, users can use natural language to say “show me where the biggest delays are for order.”

SAP

SAP showed off Joule, its generative AI assistant. There were two use cases that I found interesting. The first was around inventory management. Joule is able to analyze which categories might not be selling as well in certain stores or regions. Part of this analysis is to look at lost revenue or the seasonality of items, and help to create a specific promotion for that item. This is part of the omni-channel promotion planning engine, and retailers can customize each promotion across the entire brand or down to a specific store.

The second piece is around sustainability. Joule can analyze the sustainability practices of suppliers and manufacturers that a retailer partners with. Essentially retailers can examine whether materials are compliant with their own sustainability goals and initiatives. And if they are not, the retailer can look at alternative sources that aligns to their goals. This process creates transparency across the entire supply chain, including manufacturers, suppliers, and facilities. For the end consumer, it creates a snapshot of traceability from procurement to delivery. The consumer can see the sustainability path of an item they are ordering, and if it doesn’t meet their requirements, they can look elsewhere. It gives consumers a sustainability benchmarking tool for the products they buy.

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