Supply chain management (SCM) is changing rapidly.
Even before the advent of COVID-19, supply chain operations were already evolving. But the virus increased stresses on production, sourcing, and distribution substantially. That's why more than 80% of organizations in a recent survey reported that their supply chains were negatively impacted by the pandemic.
As supply chains become longer, tighter, and more complex, they become more vulnerable, forcing businesses to become more agile, flexible, and efficient in response. In today's environment of constant change, the best way for a company to revolutionize its supply chain management is through an aggressive program of digital transformation. In fact, 62% of corporations in a recent survey by Deloitte said their top priority for future digital investment is their supply chain. And many of those new supply chain solutions will be created with low-code platforms rather than traditional software development projects.
In this article we want to look at the challenges facing supply chains today, and how low-code development is supercharging a transformation in supply chain management both now and for the future.
What is low-code software development?
The low-code approach allows users to develop business applications without writing substantial amounts of dedicated code. Business process workflows are designed by dragging and dropping pre-built components onto the visual canvass of a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Because of those pre-built components, developers typically must hand code only about 10% of the application's functionality. The low-code platform handles the rest.
A major advantage of low-code over traditional software development is that it allows workers who may have few coding skills, but who have an intimate understanding of the business processes they use, to automate their workflows mostly on their own. But, as Gartner notes, professional software developers can also benefit greatly from the low-code approach because it reduces the amount of code they must write (and debug, and maintain) by 90% or more.
Challenges of SCM and how low-code helps address them
The basic elements of supply chain management include integration, operations, purchasing, and distribution. A fifth necessary ingredient is the data that pulls it all together. All of these functions are facing major challenges in today's environment, and each can benefit significantly from low-code automation. Let's see how.
According to Rachael Dent, Manufacturing and Operations Manager at The Redline Group, integration is the "brains and heart of the supply chain process." It involves managing the communication among stakeholders to ensure that all required tasks at every step of the supply chain are assigned, acted upon, and completed as required.
As Dent notes, "The key component of integration is data and its collection, storing and use." But many of the data sources required for effective supply chain integration have historically existed within their own isolated silos. Low-code development is now being used to implement Master Data Management (MDM) to consolidate the data from disparate systems. MDM creates a set of master records that users throughout the organization can interrogate to get a timely, accurate, and comprehensive picture of conditions across the entire supply chain.
Day-to-day operations are the heart of the process by which companies create and deliver goods and services for their customers. A key aspect of this is continuous monitoring of the work being performed at every stage of the supply chain, with adjustments being made as necessary. Low-code applications can streamline operations by automating the tracking, reporting, and updating of key items such as inventory levels, production schedules, worker scheduling, and movements of finished products.
The purchasing element of the supply chain has recently suffered some significant disruptions. These include events ranging from the COVID pandemic disarranging suppliers' production schedules, to the Ever Given container ship blocking the Suez Canal, an incident that will continue to cause global procurement problems for months, if not years. As Mike Landry, supply chain management global service line lead at Genpact, has said:
"Ever Given is a perfect example of how things can go devastatingly wrong if one part of a supply chain fails."
Because of such events, shortages have occurred in many parts of the global economy, causing widespread delays in production and delivery of everything from microchips to lumber, steel, and even ketchup. As a result, companies must be flexible and agile in finding reliable sources for the supplies they require to keep production on schedule. That's put a premium on software apps that can provide quick and easy customization along the supply chain to facilitate tracking and re-sourcing in an ever-changing environment. With its unique ability to quickly and flexibly automate procurement processes, low-code development is proving to be the perfect solution for this vital function.
Who knows, maybe the Ever Given would not have been such a catastrophe if companies had employed low-code automation to solve their supply chain problems!
Getting products from the manufacturing floor or the warehouse to the customer has become more problematic in recent months. Because of the pandemic, truck drivers and warehouse staff remain in short supply. As one industry report notes,
"Transportation capacity has been a significant challenge since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shippers are finding it difficult to secure space on ships, planes, trucks and trains to move their goods."
To overcome inevitable distribution challenges, companies need an up-to-the-minute view of all aspects of their distribution channels. Many are meeting that need by deploying low-code solutions targeted at collecting, in real time, information from all relevant sources in a logistics climate that's in a continuous state of flux.
In today's volatile environment, if a company lacks up-to-date, comprehensive data about all aspects of its supply chain, it becomes extremely vulnerable to unanticipated disruptions. As one industry observer has noted, the businesses that were least affected by the pandemic are all distinguished by their robust data collection systems.
Creating carefully targeted apps that can collect relevant data from disparate sources and make it available to everyone who needs it, is an almost perfect use case for low-code software development.
Low-code can indeed future-proof your SCM
In today's unstable, constantly changing supply chain environment, companies need to be able to quickly deploy well-targeted software apps that meet immediate needs. And that's where low-code software development excels. As an article in the UK's Business Matters magazine puts it:
"Low-code platforms let technology teams build enterprise applications substantially faster to meet rapid[ly] changing business objectives… At a time when we need to navigate around the new normal of constant change, the future-proof software stack that a low-code platform offers is the perfect intuitive toolset that agile leaders need to drive the disruption."
With low-code you can prepare your business for the future by driving digital transformation in your supply chain. You'll not only save time and energy today through low-code automation and integration, but you'll also allow your workers to focus on future development instead of mundane daily tasks.
Here at eSystems Nordic, helping companies like yours leverage the benefits of low-code development is our mission. To get started future-proofing your company's supply chain management, please contact us today.
WRITTEN BY: Sami Kovanen | Chief Customer Officer