Supply Chain Management Buyer’s Guide
Supply Chain software systems provide powerful tool that help you access data, create reports, and analyze all the important details about how the goods and products your business relies on get from point A to point B, all in one centralized system.
Supply Chain Management Software Benefits and Key Features
Using supply chain software can help improve and streamline your business in many ways, including:
- Improve Synchronicity in Your Supply Chain
- Reduce Risk and Errors
- Control (and Often Reduce) Costs
- Boost Efficiency and Productivity
- Support Decision-Making
- Improve Customer Service and Supplier Relations
- Maintain Data Security and Integrity
While there are many different variations of supply chain management software solutions on the market, this software typically includes these key features to support healthy supply chain operations across a multitude of industries:
- Supply Chain Planning
- Demand Planning
- Inventory Management
- Warehouse Management
- Supplier Relationship Management
- Order Fulfillment
- Transportation Management
- Reporting and Analytics
- Predictive Analytics and Forecasting Tools
Choosing a supply chain software solution that is perfectly tailored to your business is key to maintaining a thriving supply chain, but the process of finding and implementing your perfect system can be a bit overwhelming.
This guide will provide insight and tools for selecting the best Supply Chain Management solution for your company.
Supply Chain Management Software Vs. ERP
There is some overlap in ERP and Supply Chain Management solutions, but generally ERP systems handle a much larger operational data set that’s set up in modules across all the different levels of the company, of which supply chain management is just one component. So often times, supply chain is part of an ERP system, but it’s not the sole function of an ERP.
Supply Chain Management solutions, on the other hand, are specifically designed to the needs of any company managing a supply chain. There is a lot of variation in supply chain management tools, because some are tailored exclusively to particular industries or functionalities (such as transportation management) but the sole focus of supply chain management solutions is, indeed, supply chain.
Supply Chain Management Trends to Watch
Business trends and software trends have a symbiotic relationship much of the time, innovation in one area always drives change in the other. To stay current and competitive in your industry by embracing all the best tools for your business, you should regularly study trends surrounding the software solutions you use in your company.
Improved Data Visualization
Supply Chain Management software makes it possible for you to easily access data and create meaningful reports conveying how each aspect of your supply chain is performing. Data visualization capabilities is improving in each iteration of this software, giving companies an array of tools for improving efficiency, identifying and solving issues, and planning for future business growth.
Efficient systems and sustainable processes eliminating excess waste at point in a company’s supply chain operations are going to be even more heavily scrutinized by executives in the coming year. This focus on sustainable practices is bound to be a competitive differentiator amongst providers as they use this focus to further reduce costs and wasted energy or resources (while improving their environmental footprint at the same time.)
Supply Chain Management is going social. Social media channels have become a main focus for customer service improvements in many businesses, and for good reason. Social media is the most common place where consumers are going to share the experience they’ve had with a brand. Much of a customer’s experience is shaped by your supply chain, from product quality reviews, delivery speed, and overall customer satisfaction. Supply chain managers are starting to focus more on social media for this reason, and this useful data will likely soon become a main component of product management and executive strategy.
Choosing Your Perfect Supply Chain Management Solution
Conduct a Business Review
Implementing a supply chain software can often be more complex than adding other business software solutions to your business because this system needs to be integrated and connected with more data sources along your supply chain to ensure everything functions as efficiently (and profitably) as possible.
Planning and preparation are key to your successful implementation, and this process ultimately begins with choosing the best system for your supply chain needs. Make a list of the specific business needs that are driving your decision to implement a new supply chain software or upgrade your existing one. Thinking about the manual data barriers or other issues that may be holding your supply chain back will help you gain insight into just how different solutions will best fulfill your needs and help you meet your goals.
Many companies find it helpful to include company leaders and key partners in their decision-making process of choosing the best supply chain software. You can include key people in your business (and along your unique supply chain) in your selection and planning process to make sure that all of your important needs are accounted for and your solution contains all the features and tools you must have to optimize your efficiency.
Questions to Ask to Guide Your Review
• What supply chain gaps occur consistently, and what is their impact on your company?
• Are your existing processes, tools, and systems outdated and cumbersome for employees?
• Are the costs of operating your existing manual processes or outdated technology outweighing the benefits you receive?
• What tools and features are must-haves for our company? Which features aren’t as vital?
• How tech savvy are the employees who will use the system most?
• What deployment method makes the most sense for our business and budget?
• How many people will use your system?
Build Your Budget
After you’ve conducted a complete review of your business needs and have a strong understanding of what tools you need to support your supply chain, it is important to figure out the budget you can allocate toward purchasing or upgrading your system.
Using the list you prepared while reviewing your business needs, you can determine how much value will be created by using supply chain software. Prepare your budget accordingly. You should give yourself spending limit as well as a range of pricing models including one-time installation costs or monthly fees. Depending on the size and needs of your company, one type of plan may make more sense financially over the other.
Need help building your budget? Get pricing from leading Supply Chain Management vendors now!
Determine Which Type of Technology Will Best Suit Your Needs
Supply Chain software vendors typically offer an array of different technologies and deployment methods to best meet the size, budget, and needs of your company. While cloud solutions are swiftly gaining popularity, particularly among small and medium companies, larger business still often choose to go with an on-site solution, so they can create a more customized and proprietary solution. Here’s a closer look at the main technology options available on the market:
Cloud-based technology is becoming increasingly popular for all types of business software, and supply chain management is no exception. Cloud technology functions through a third-party platform that is powered by the internet, which supports business mobility and remote system access that a flourishing company needs. Cloud systems are also more affordable, which gives more companies the opportunity to embrace a supply chain software earlier in their business.
On-premise, or on-site solutions are systems that are built on-site in an office building or other physical location. On-premise solutions require hardware and ongoing updates and maintenance, which makes implementation more expensive than cloud solutions.
Not sure what technology or deployment is for you? We can help!
Think About the People in Your Company Who will be Using Your System
For your supply chain software solution to be a success in your business, your employees will need to embrace it and use it to its full potential. If your system is cumbersome or confusing, many employees may become frustrated and not use it as much as they should. This can hinder your growth, so it’s important to pick a software that suits the needs of everyone who will using it.
As you think about the users in your company, think over these questions to find the best fit for your teams:
• How many users will be using the system?
• What data sources need to be integrated with this system? Will it interrupt day to day business for my teams? For how long?
• What levels exist in your users? (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced)
• What are the needs of each group of users?
• What type of support will users need as they learn and use and maximize the potential in the software?
• What training will my employees need?
Determine the Features and Tools Your Solution Must Offer
Your business needs, users, and budget will all work together to help you choose the best supply chain system for your business, but there are some core features offered by most vendors, either in separate modules or as part of the overall system, that you will want to consider according to your industry and unique business needs.
Know What to Look for in Your Perfect Software Vendor
As you meet with various supply chain system vendors that you’re interested in working with, you should do some due diligence in researching their reputation before you commit to purchasing their services.
Some of the key things you should look for in your perfect vendor are prominence, reviews, and support.
Industry prominence and popularity
While you should not choose a vendor based on popularity alone, industry standing can signal what you can expect from their services. Make sure that the vendor you select has prominence in the industry and is popular among other companies with similar supply chain needs as yours.
Reviews from current or past system users
One of the best ways you can easily research a vendor you’re considering is to look for reviews given by current or past users. Reviews from current companies using their software can give you great insight into how the vendor treats customers and how companies value their services and features. Past reviews can establish a history of service values and give you a snapshot into how the vendor handles business over time as well.
Plan Your Integration and Customizations
Supply chains have many moving pieces, all which depend on perfect coordination and sync. As a result, integrating and customizing your supply chain software solution and connecting all those various moving pieces that make your supply chain function, will understandably be more complex than some other business software integrations. If you know where all of your current data exists and how your system operates, you will be able to implement your solution with much more ease.
Choose a time when data migration will not impact your core business hours or seasons, if possible. During your integration, some data sources may not be accessible for short periods of time, or may not contain complete data for analysis. Choosing a time when your company is not as busy can help you avoid the negative impacts of the system downtime that is part of switching all your data sources into your supply chain software.
Learn What Type of Support is Offered
Support is a vital component that all vendors will offer. However, the types and degree of support will vary from provider to provider, so make sure you know what level of support your team will need, and then ensure your selected vendor can easily fulfil those support needs.
Understand Your Hardware Needs
If you choose to implement a cloud-based or hosted supply chain management solution, then you will not require any hardware to get your solution up and running quickly. But you’ll need to carefully consider all your integration points and know how your supply chain solution will tie into your other business systems to fully understand any hardware you may need.
However, if you’re going to be implementing your supply chain solution on site, you’ll need to plan on investing upfront for hardware, installation, and ongoing maintenance on your system.
Research and Compare Multiple Supply Chain Software Vendors
Once you have a firm grasp on all the things you need and want from your Supply Chain solution, and understand what you must invest, then you can begin researching and comparing vendors.
There are many excellent vendors on the market, and you’ll undoubtedly be able to find your perfect system if you take a bit of time to really look into what each vendor offers and compare your top choices against one another to determine which is best for you and your business. As you compare your options, make sure to keep your list of key business needs and required features handy so you can reference them and keep yourself on track as you absorb all of the information and create a short list of viable options.
Set up Demos and Get Pricing from Vendors on Your Short List
Once you’ve created a short list of three to five solutions that best meet your supply chain needs, it’s important to take your preparation and research one step further and get in touch with each one. Most providers will happily set up meetings to discuss your requirements and can demonstrate all the key features for you.
Before you participate in a meeting or demo with a vendor, make sure that you refresh your memory on all your business and feature needs. It is also a great idea to provide your lists to the vendor prior to meeting, so they can put together the custom options and pricing they have available that will meet your needs. This will make your time much more efficient, and also give the vendor a clear understanding of exactly what you require.