Let’s look at some of the most impactful trends and understand how they are influencing business decisions about fulfillment execution processes.
What is fulfillment execution?
Fulfillment execution processes can be listed by creating a backwards tracing of every step and process that resulted in your customer receiving your product, or service.
Obviously, for your customer to have received your product there had to be a product. For many companies the R&D department had to envision and prototype the product at some distant point in time. For the purposes of this conversation, we don’t need to go that far back. Here, we are limiting our definition of “fulfillment execution” to those steps that occur after the receipt of an order from a customer.
How are these IT trends impacting business in general, and fulfillment execution strategy in particular?
“1s” and “0s” (code) have revolutionized the world. We live in a connected world where real time information is used to make “on the fly” business decisions relating to products, customers, suppliers, distribution channels, internal processes, payment confirmations, etc., etc., etc. Your employees, and the culture you have created in your business, are empowered, or restricted, by the availability of accurate, up-to-date and predictive information. Information that is outdated, inaccurate or not presented in a simple format (where the calculating has already been done) is dangerous and counterproductive. Used effectively, digital technology creates a virtual link between employees, customers, suppliers and distribution partners. Moreover, your competitors are leveraging their digital capacity, your customers expect it and your suppliers are responding to the squeaky wheels – their other customers who are leveraging their digital capacity to know what they need and when they need it and to communicate those needs instantly and articulately. Leveraging digital technology makes things faster and faster equates to more efficient. Digital technology enhances cooperation, because everybody has all the correct information, all the time. We have better and more insightful analytics that help us make better business decisions, cooperatively with everyone in our business ecosystem.
Of course, there are some risks inherent in leveraging digital technology. Solutions are demanded and provided with lightning speed – sometimes coming so quickly that adequate testing isn’t done. Sometimes security concerns are not comprehensively addressed.
That makes it critical to work with proven IT and with partners who have tested and incorporated rigid security protocols into their solutions. Working with those partners and diving deep to consider all the advantages and risks is of paramount importance.
Information will continue to radically change the retail environment. Information will continue to make retail progressively highly personalized. Customers will come to expect that you have products and services they are interested in and that you won’t be wasting their time. Retail customers will, more and more, respond to content distribution and less and less to web sites and online catalogs. The integration of all of your operating functions (sales, distribution, CRM, product development, etc.) must leverage the information that you can assemble about customers, trends and competition.
Leveraging IT allows you to offer a dynamic range of products and services. It allows flexibility. It allows establishing a community with your customers and suppliers. It allows you to be able and willing to have distinct and different value propositions for many segmented groups in your business ecosystem. Having the better mousetrap will no longer cut it. In the future, you will have to have a specific better mousetrap for each of your customers and have a more mutually beneficial supply mousetrap-relationship with your suppliers.
Your relationships will have to be bi-directional – from you to them and from them to you. The efficiency of your information loop will ensure that you can react faster, with better solutions. Gone are the days when it was critical to be thought of as safe, stable and precise. Your performance must be excellent (that goes without saying) but it must also be agile, scalable, flexible, responsive, individualized and instant. As the world moves faster, other entities in your ecosystem will fail faster, and probably more dramatically. Testing and integration will be accomplished at full speed, and not always very well. Your agility and flexibility must also anticipate your ability to react to catastrophes beyond your control
You will be expected to be more things to more people. It may be necessary to act as an accumulator, or broker, of services and things, to provide everything that your customers require. As the pace of innovation accelerates, it will be impossible to keep up. This means that you may have to integrate with other people and organizations in your business ecosystem. You won’t have time to develop every product or service and you may be forced to build partnerships and teams. Truly, to keep pace in the future, it will take a village. This applies as much to a business that provides a service as it does to one that provides products – and indeed – the line between products and services will become progressively more blurred. Your job is to provide the simplest, most effective solutions for your customers. That will often not mean asking them to wait for your product development process to reach conclusion. It may mean taking the initiative to find partnerships that complete the jigsaw puzzle of the solutions you must deliver for your customers. Your role will become more of an external quality control inspector, to insure that the pieces of the solution jigsaw puzzle you are assembling will work seamlessly and effectively. The ability to leverage the products and services of others will be the critical skill that you require to stay ahead of the competition in the future.
As you move into this integrated, cooperative world, the issue of security will become increasingly more important and more difficult to manage. The agility with which you deal with product development and leveraging partner contributions must be matched by a flexibility, responsiveness and foresight, expertly anticipating and avoiding security concerns. It will be imperative to become immediately aware of security breaches and to respond instantly and effectively. The requisite cost / benefit analysis will weigh heavily in favor of the benefit of avoiding security breakdowns. This will become such an imperative in the future that it will become one of the key senior executive functions in every organization.
Lastly, as growth and complexity in the IT world explodes, you will be required to manage and control incomprehensible amounts of data. Data will come from many sources and will be in varying formats with many different levels of security and quality confirmation. To control this inflow and outflow of data effectively, it will be critical to be able to use the data itself to predict future events and simultaneously to use that data to validate those predictions and, if the predictive model fails, to self-analyze why and instantly diagnose data challenges to identify the cause of problems and target areas for correction. This will not only be good business, it will be an obligation imposed by law, as data management becomes an ever greater competency the mastering of which ensures the safety of all.
Once data is controlled and accurate, it must then be integrated into many platforms without any loss of control, or accuracy. Data control, accuracy and security will increasingly become ongoing challenges that must be addressed constantly.
One might well wonder, what digital technology multiple product / service models, security and data control and validity have to do with fulfillment execution software (FES).
The answer is: everything.
Managing your fulfillment processes as the IT world explodes with new technology and new threats can no longer be left to software developers with a narrow focus on FES functionality.
From now on, it requires a sophisticated, complex, experienced and multi-dimensional provider with the capacity to understand all of the challenges and build robust, scalable, responsive, self-analytic and secure systems, customized to the particular requirements of every customer. Your FES provider must possess a sufficiently “outwards-facing” philosophy to manage both the opportunities that can be achieved with best-of-breed internal fulfillment processes and simultaneously detect and deflect the threats that will abound in the future.