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Growing Your 3PL with Technology

February 12, 2021

During these unprecedented times, successful 3PLs have pivoted to meet (and exceed) growing consumer expectations. The secret to their success? Technology.

With mandatory lockdowns and city-wide curfews, the e-commerce industry has skyrocketed. As retail sales slowly declined, e-commerce saw 45% growth in just the second quarter of 2020. Combine that growth with customers expecting two-day, overnight, and even one-hour deliveries and it’s easy to see that keeping up with technology should be a top priority for 3PLs.

The importance of technology

Carriers have had to realize the importance of real-time data, analytics, and efficiency during this global pandemic. Competitive pricing is no longer enough to win bids. With more and more data available throughout the supply chain, the opportunity for advancement is through the introduction of technology.

Technology has helped develop solutions to some of the supply chain’s biggest challenges through innovative information gathering and data analytics tools. From inventory warehousing to order fulfillment, cutting edge technology has streamlined processes, reduced human error, and highlighted areas of improvement throughout the supply chain. With updated technology tools, 3PLs can provide integrated solutions from multiple sources to give greater transparency and efficiency.

Technology options: where to start

The options for technical integrations and software systems are endless. We understand how expensive and overwhelming onboarding new technologies can be, so here are three areas we recommend focusing on when it comes to introducing or upgrading technologies:

1.     Robotic process automation

We often hear from clients that they don’t want robots taking over their warehouses, but the implementation of process automation technology is key in overhauling monotonous day-to-day tasks, allowing your employees to focus on higher priority competencies.

Robotic process automation is the technology that allows anyone today to configure computer software, or a “robot” to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to execute a business process. RPA robots utilize the user interface to capture data and manipulate applications just like humans do. They interpret, trigger responses, and communicate with other systems to perform a vast variety of repetitive tasks. Only substantially better: an RPA software robot never sleeps and makes zero mistakes.

2.     Order fulfillment software

Order fulfillment software is a common e-commerce solution that can process orders from customers and prepare them for shipment from a business location. This technology automates inventory and warehouse management to make order fulfillment more efficient.

Fulfillment software integrates with the 3PLs warehouse systems to provide real-time data on order fulfillment, tracking, inventory, and deliveries. These insights drive decisions and alert stakeholders of any disruptions or delays.

3.     Advanced analytics

Christy Pettey emphasizes the importance of analytics technology through the lens of predictive and advanced analytics.

“Predictive analytics offer further support to users by helping them understand likely future scenarios. Prescriptive analytics offers the most support with actionable recommendations. These capabilities – predicting future scenarios and prescribing actions – are provided by advanced analytics.”

Utilizing advanced analytics allows 3PLs to foresee disruptions and delays before they occur and addresses potential future opportunities. These technologies can aid in end-to-end supply chain performance and overhaul processes previously dependent on human involvement.

Benefits to shippers

1.     Connectivity

With the integration of systems that now connect through webhooks, APIs, and other methods, supply chains can stay connected to sales activity in real-time giving greater transparency to businesses and their customers. With these advancements in technology enhancing visibility, expectations have increased, leaving supply chains with no choice but to invest in technologies that provide transparency and connectivity for their customers.

2.     Efficiency

It’s never been more important to not only have competitive wages and people-first culture but to find ways to automate some aspects of warehouse operations. Technology, like the robotics automation process, helps improve e-commerce fulfillment operations, forecasting, and inventory management. Customers benefit from reduced shipping time and cost, all adding up to more efficient operations.

3.     Integration

In today’s eCommerce fulfillment world, there is no “silver bullet” or single super-technology that will magically meet your needs. In fact, providers often take a technology stack approach. This includes leveraging integrations with platforms, marketplaces, and retailers that are connected to an OMS (Order Management System), WMS (Warehouse Management System), TMS (Transportation Management System), and LMS (Labor Management System).

The goal of the “stack” is to drive a cost-effective operation that also provides meaningful information to make intelligent data-backed decisions. To give a business the opportunity to sell products in any channel anywhere in the world and to easily push timely order information to customers.

Be on the lookout

Data is only as useful as the analysis that surrounds the numbers. Technological advancements in the supply chain and logistics industries have allowed for rapid growth and collection of data to help streamline processes and reduce cost. Analytics tools give invaluable insight into the challenges 3PLs face and, through adaptive technologies, offer solutions.

Need help implementing technologies into your supply chain? Want to dig deeper into integrated solutions driven by data? For over 50 years, WSI has helped customers succeed with reliable, integrated third-party logistics. That passion for excellence has built WSI into one of the nation’s largest privately held 3PL solutions providers. We’re here to help.

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