‘Digital transformation’ and ‘automation’ have been buzzwords around the warehouse and distribution industry for a few years now. It’s been pretty much accepted that they’d be part of our future – that the next decade would include a big change in the way we use digital technology.
However, 2020 has turned that idea upside down.
What we thought was a few years away is now upon us, thanks to the effects of the pandemic and its impact on the way we operate. Even those who’ve been mostly unaffected so far, our industries are sure to feel the pressure in the coming months and years.
The pressure to adopt automation and ‘go digital’ earlier than planned is overwhelming for many – but the opportunities open to those who act on it are enticing. There’s no doubt that those who adopt and adapt the quickest (and most effectively) will be the ones to succeed in the long run.
Operations, markets and customers have changed
Among the warehouse and distribution businesses I work with, I can safely say those who were early to the party and had already adopted automation were able to adapt much better this year than those who hadn’t.
We’ve been (somewhat) lucky in our industry, in that not everyone’s been harshly affected by this year’s events. It’s affected everyone to different extents and in different ways – and it will continue to do so.
It’s safe to say that, at some point in the next 12 to 24 months, most businesses will experience one or all of the following:
- Tighter budgets
- Changing markets
- Changing customer behaviour
- Increased competition
- Stalled business growth
Each of these challenges is going to affect how you run your business from here on out, and those who continue to try to operate in the way they always have will quickly fall behind.
While we can’t necessarily ‘fix’ the industry challenges that have arisen, we can change how we operate in order to continue to grow despite these challenges.
Three non-negotiables for 2021
What you need now to grow your business and stay competitive has changed dramatically. In order to get (and stay) ahead in the coming months, there are three key things you’ll need to do:
Eliminate unnecessary costs
Many businesses have processes that cause both direct and indirect financial impact. Manual stock processes can easily lead to errors, lost stock, deadstock and delayed orders (to name a few). Additionally, staff inefficiency leads to productivity loss (and, eventually, profit loss). These can no longer be viewed as ‘part of business’ – they need to be eliminated so that much-needed business capital can be regained, and to ensure staff are using their time to perform valuable tasks and deliver ROI.
Retain current customers and win new ones
Winning new customers will be one of the harder things to do – which is why retaining your current client base is paramount. You need to be able to maintain customer satisfaction and adapt to changing expectations. Having said that, the opportunity to win new customers in new markets will be open to those who are able and willing. You’ll need the ability to scale and pivot your business to potentially enter new markets where demand still exists – or where it’s escalated.
Know what’s coming
With a disrupted market, being able to access data and reports fast – and being able to analyse and adjust to market requirements – will be a major factor in staying competitive. Accurately forecasting and planning for growth (especially when existing plans have been thwarted by unforeseen circumstances) is important and requires clear business visibility. Management can’t be wasted on reacting to what needs to be done in the business. Instead, you need to be proactive about the future of your business.
By implementing automation into your operations, these tasks will become much more streamlined. In fact, as the name suggests, they’ll become automatic. You’ll find yourself almost immediately saving time and effort for your staff, while also continuing to maintain meaningful relationships with your customers and drive increased sales and cost controls.
The time for ERPs to shine
Most businesses already have some sort of automation capabilities in place at the moment – but expectations have shifted. If you’re still relying on manual processes (or multiple systems that don’t speak to each other), you are no longer part of the norm. You’re running behind the competition.
While many businesses have been thrown off by the sudden need to automate and digitise, those who’ve seen the opportunities of doing so have a real chance to benefit. Making the switch now will set you up for long-term growth and success.
One of the easiest ways to achieve automation is with an ERP system. ERPs integrate and automate everything from stock to sales to customer management, significantly reducing the need for manual processes. This can help you achieve all three of the 2021 non-negotiables, by allowing you to:
- Personalise sales and marketing processes and automatically follow up quotes and track orders, allowing for a better customer experience and increased sales opportunities;
- Create an online presence and set up eCommerce order functionality that integrates with your warehouse so you can reach markets and customers far and wide
- Better monitor your stock, set up automatic ordering and integrate stock levels with sales so you can minimise the amount of capital lost or tied up in stock
- Get real-time access to business data and run highly customised, automated and more meaningful reports so you’re always in the know and can make accurate decisions for the future
When you choose the right system and provider, you should begin to see the benefits – and the return on your investment – within the first 6 months. And, by choosing a flexible and scalable system, you will be supported through periods of growth well into the future, without having to change or upgrade your system.
With ERP automation, not only do you put yourself on the fast track to becoming a competitive leader, but you also embrace technology to better your business and protect your assets.
To find out more about whether automation software is the right answer for your business and how to successfully implement it, register to attend our upcoming webinar or click here to find out more about leading ERP solutions.
Robert Butler is the Managing Director of Micronet Systems and is focused on helping business leaders overcome inefficient sales, inventory, and customer relationship management practices by leveraging cutting edge technology. If you want to discuss automation and improving business processes, you can reach out via email here.