Embrace digitisation to keep pace with expectations

Ross Bannerman, Business Unit Director at Wincanton, examines the advantages digitisation of working processes can bring to companies in the defence supply chain.  

In a modern-day business environment, where new digital developments are constantly emerging, it can be difficult to keep up to speed with new technology and what it can offer. With pressures on time and resource, businesses can be forgiven for their reluctance in embracing new forms of digitisation in favour of traditional working methods which have always proven effective. 

Through years of working with customers across various sectors, Wincanton has insight into how embracing digitisation can be key to overcoming challenges in the supply chain – from cutting costs to streamlining busy delivery schedules. Digital tools can help businesses keep pace with high customer expectations for order fulfilment, the benchmark for which has been set in fast-moving and sophisticated retail industries. 

Take, for example, the challenges of managing the delivery of materials to an infrastructure project. A digitised delivery management system – an IT system which allows contractors to control the flow of deliveries into a specific project – can streamline the scheduling process, reducing delays (and often the failure to meet KPIs), avoiding vehicles blocking the road and preventing others from arriving and unloading. 

The online delivery management system allows the main contractor to manage the flow of vehicles and materials into the project and coordinate which parts need to arrive as priority and at what time. This means expensive machinery is not being under-utilised, vehicles do not get stuck in a congested bottleneck and suppliers know exactly what time to arrive on site. Adopting new technologies and IT systems carries a cost of course, but implementing them within the supply chain has long-term and measurable cost benefits. 

Another example of how digitisation can improve the supply chain is by allowing greater transparency in the journey of products through the chain. Contractors are increasingly looking for traceability on their products but the way products and services have historically been procured does not allow for this kind of tracking. Digitisation can create a common language throughout the supply chain in which various parties can communicate with each other, referencing components and following products all the way from beginning to end. It is this visibility that gives contractors the ability to identify potential issues before they happen and avoid delays. 

Digitisation can also help to transform the planning of materials and people needed in a construction project. Building Information Modelling (BIM) incorporates forecasting services to allow contractors and project managers to accurately plan for projects. The BIM model can help users predict activities throughout the construction of the project, which allows contractors to accurately pinpoint what needs to happen in each phase. This creates a complete schedule, showing what needs to be done to deliver the project within the allocated timeframe and predicting what material components will be needed for the construction. 

BIM can also take plans off the page and into a 3D realm through digital image mapping. It acts like an architect’s sketch of a building in 3D so you can virtually ‘walk through’ the design and look of a building. These new, disruptive systems can completely change the way the industry approaches projects, even helping communication with customers. Crucially, all of these processes are contained within a single smart system which saves time and money and is easily accessed by various members of the team. 

Digital tools have become vital elements in ensuring the supply chain delivers on time and on budget. Through reducing costs and improving efficiency they can make a positive impact on the bottom line of a construction project. Perhaps most importantly, they can enable contractors to keep their clients happy, by delivering on promises and communicating well; the ability to highlight and tackle a problem in the supply chain before it happens can make the difference between meeting a Service Level Agreement or facing a financial penalty for failure. 

As more businesses see at first hand the benefits that digitisation brings, the more compelling the case for adoption for those that remain, and the more opportunity businesses have to demonstrate commitment to meeting expectations. By taking up the digitisation of the supply chain, companies can demonstrate how they are open to innovation and dedicated to meeting customer expectations. 

In the logistics industry, digitisation has been revolutionary in creating more effective supply chains. The defence sector has an opportunity to learn from innovation in other sectors, such as retail, and apply the same level of efficiency to its own supply chains.  

Digitisation allows for visibility of inventory from production all the way to point of use. Without these digital tools, lack of visibility across the supply chain can have a detrimental effect on time and cost. For example, individuals can spot if their colleague has a tool or part they require, which removes the need for ordering and paying for unnecessary materials. It also helps businesses keep an accurate track of what they need, rather than unnecessarily stockpiling or duplicating work. 

At Wincanton, we are helping our customers by interfacing our systems with theirs to help speed up processes and provide greater visibility across the whole supply chain. By creating these systems which defence customers have not had before, we are enabling them to become more competitive and cost-conscious. Particularly, the complexity of programmes we work on in the defence sector can be reduced by using digitisation to streamline processes and compliance.  

Collaboration can be tricky in sectors such as defence, where competitors may be working very closely together, but customers quickly see the benefit of outsourcing their warehousing when they can take advantage of shared intelligence. Logistics providers such as Wincanton are in a prime position because we have insight into all different businesses and can see where commonalities lie and then present the strongest business case for each customer, one that saves times and money. 

Big data is also helpful when it comes to convergence. Some customers may be working with platforms they have inherited, but we can put forward better options for them to streamline their work. In the past, businesses did not have access to the visibility that digitisation allows, but outsourcing to the logistics experts means they can run their operations much more smoothly.

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