Like all businesses, wholesale and distribution organizations found themselves trying to manage sudden and extreme disruptions to their operations in 2020, due to the impact of COVID-19. For many, supply chains faltered as domestic and international vendors shut down just as demand was ratcheting up, particularly for consumer goods.
The challenging environment forced wholesale and distribution organizations to review their suppliers and transport facilities and networks. It also delivered a clear message: Beef up digital business capabilities to boost efficiency and competitiveness, or risk failure.
Some companies may have considered simply introducing or improving a B2B e-commerce function to be an adequate response. But more forward-looking and opportunistic companies immediately recognized that the importance of a significant and broad digital transformation would transcend the resolution of the health crisis, which could be just months away once widespread vaccinations begin.
Consequently, a growing number of wholesale and distribution organizations are implementing data-driven solutions like robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital and analytical technologies. These data platforms can benefit wholesalers and distributors in the following areas, among others:
- Decision-Making Ability – Digital solutions can help organizations evaluate product lines, inventory levels and demand, determine marketing and sales plans and pinpoint future investment opportunities or needs.
- Supply Chain Optimization – Data-driven systems can assist in adjusting raw material, production or shipping schedules to mitigate anticipated difficulties when natural disasters, pandemics or other events interrupt normal business operations.
- Efficiency/Cost-Cutting – Robotic process automation (RPA) is increasingly being used as a cost-effective way to move or measure inventory, help identify parts, and perform similar duties on the warehouse floor at virtually any hour of the day. Likewise, in the back office, RPA can perform sales, billing, accounting and other mundane and repetitive administrative tasks.
In addition to those advantages, digital technologies including SAP are creating new and innovative connections between wholesalers and distributors and their customers. This is accelerating the ability of wholesalers and distributors to share meaningful insights with their customers and tailor solutions to specific needs, both of which can help their customers forge deeper relationships with end users or consumers.
Transformation in Action
An excellent example of how data-driven technologies can enhance operations can be seen in Breakthru Beverage Group’s digital transformation effort. The company, which distributes a variety of beer, wine and liquor from 36 facilities in 14 U.S. states and Canada to restaurants, bars and retailers, was already pursuing a vision to become a fully integrated, data-driven business when COVID-19 struck.
Breakthru’s focus on technology investments and the development of granular telemetry is helping its business teams better understand demand, drive sales goals, optimize the supply chain, manage finances and create other operational efficiencies.
In particular, the company is emphasizing building lasting relationships with its customers by providing important insights to help them grow and improve their business performance. Capitalizing on data-driven “moments” and fostering the best business outcomes will drive the company’s success as Breakthru’s sales teams meet with customers, its customers interact with the company’s digital platform, and its associates seek critical data to predict changing business conditions, according to Peter Coliukos, vice president of Enterprise Systems at Breakthru.
By remaining committed to digital transformation or even launching such an effort during one of the most challenging economic times in recent history, organizations like Breakthru are positioned to differentiate themselves from competitors and take advantage of future opportunities as conditions improve. For companies that have been slow to adopt or implement data-driven systems – or that are only now beginning to consider making the transition – it’s not too late to take action. By pursuing a digital transformation today, organizations can secure better business prospects tomorrow.