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Exclusive Q&A: Analytics, automation can resolve supply chain issues

Abe Eshkenazi
Abe Eshkenazi, CEO, Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM).

Retailers should apply intelligent technologies to supply chain problems such as disruption and shrink.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Abe Eshkenazi, CEO, Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), about the need for retailers to leverage leading-edge solutions across their enterprise supply chains. Eshkenazi touched on how technology can provide invaluable assistance to retailers in ensuring products flow smoothly, with protection from theft and fraud.

What technologies can retailers use to mitigate ongoing supply chain disruption? 
Having the ability to accurately anticipate disruption triggers and market fluctuations is essential, and snap decisions are a recipe for disaster in today’s unpredictable world. Yet, many retailers still do not have advanced continuity plans and tools in place.

Solutions such as predictive and prescriptive analytics will be key to establishing reliability and forming the agile digital environment needed for retailers to be successful today. For example, data-driven insights, such as intelligent sourcing, can eliminate pesky guesswork by enabling retailers to proactively prepare their assortment for unplanned demand. 

Additionally, retailers who lean on automation and robotics can speed up their operations and cultivate smooth, synchronized planning processes and drive profitability. Retailers can leverage automation in a variety of ways, from powering shipping workflows and quickly filling orders to deploying driverless vehicles to stock shelves.

However, it's important for retailers to keep in mind that robots will only succeed with proper human support. As technology evolves, organizations need to consistently re-skill and upskill their workforce. Retailers will need to implement training programs for all existing and new employees so that they are equipped to maintain and manage more advanced technology and robots.

Done correctly, the outcome of this technological transformation will be stronger collaboration, more accurate insights, and successful supply chain management. 

How can retailers better secure their supply chains against shrink?
Unfortunately, right now retailers are losing inventory from causes other than sales, such as shoplifting, theft, and return fraud. In addition, retailers are faced with the unpredictability of shipments due to the ongoing disruptions in the supply chain.

As these challenges persist, RFID technology will be hugely beneficial for retailers looking to reinforce and better manage their inventories. RFID tags can enable retailers to improve track and trace functions, enabling employees to locate products, catch delays and minimize loss.

Retailers can also combine RFID with other technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) to bolster their broader digital transformation strategy. RFID can further help retailers protect against shrink by drastically increasing visibility across the supply chain and identifying issues early. 

[Read more: CSA Exclusive: Twelve retail business cases for RFID]

How can retailers better secure their supply chains against cyberattack?
Digital supply chains are key to making better decisions and curtailing disruptions in the future. But as digitalization drives up the volume of networks and endpoints, supply chains become that much more vulnerable and exposed to cyberattacks.

For example, supply chain partners may accidentally subject one another and their customers to risks, such as privacy breaches and identity theft. It’s critical that retailers commit to safeguarding networks, devices, people and programs. They should invest in redundancy, data protection, firewalls, and advanced anti-hacking technologies, and then train their employees to identify and appropriately manage threats.

[Read more: Exclusive: Cybersecurity is a major retail IT issue]

What do you see as the biggest retail supply chain trend for 2023?
In 2023, more retailers will support circular and sustainable supply chains. The old model of ‘take, make, waste’ has finally hit a wall in today’s economy and climate. If the industry wants any chance of minimizing supply chain disruption and conserving rare resources, it will need to collectively prioritize restorative and regenerative practices.

We will see more apparel companies, for example, getting on board with circular fashion by being more considerate in the production of their clothes and making the most of recycled materials. ‘Ethical and economical’ will be the name of the game in 2023. 

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