Small Business Can Act Big with Supply Chain Automation in the Cloud

Posted by Natalie Forsyth, Senior Director Marketing, APAC

Each year, IT research consultancy firm Gartner ranks the top 25 supply chains in the APAC region, identifying the companies that have leveraged their supply chains to lead their industries and continue to drive momentum against competitors.

Earning a spot among the automobile and tech giants in the top 10 for several years in a row now was Australia-based grocery chain Woolworths. Early investments in integrating and automating key supply chain processes have positioned it to leverage its supply chain to innovate the way it does business, revolutionising how it sources products and entices customers as it eyes international expansion.

Driving customer-centric innovation through technology-enabled supply chain management provides distinct advantages for businesses. But without access to the capital and large amounts of personnel that are available to large businesses like Woolworths, can smaller companies leverage their supply chains for competitive advantage?

The answer is yes – with the cloud. Cloud-based software, which frees businesses from costly hardware investments and automates time-consuming, disruptive upgrades, brings advantages that were once only accessible by huge companies. With fast, flexible supply chain software architected for the cloud, small businesses can compete against much bigger rivals.

Despite its unequivocal advantages, less than one quarter of Australian small businesses use the cloud for their key business applications, according to research by Frost & Sullivan commissioned by NetSuite. Adopting a cloud-based platform can empower smaller companies to build a winning supply chain. Here’s how.

1. Start by automating basic supply chain processes

There is huge risk in manually maintaining key supply chain processes – such as purchasing, inventory, fulfillment and finance tracking -- as inconsistencies and inaccuracies can cause an entire supply chain breakdown. Larger businesses can absorb supply chain mistakes that smaller ones simply can’t. One late or missed payment can cause working capital shortages, while oversupply can cause losses, and hamstring a business from fulfilling demand for more popular products.

Moving basic systems such as inventory and point of sale to the cloud gives small businesses the framework to start automating low-level tasks, positioning them for increased accuracy and efficiency, and freeing up employees’ time to spend on more strategic priorities.

2. Gain advantages borne of integration

How can you improve supply chain speed and consistency without having to increase headcount? Connect all elements of the supply chain to one another – creating a system that is more resilient in unforeseen circumstances, and has the flexibility to adapt and respond. When a customer makes an ecommerce purchase, for example, inventory levels will automatically update, while at the same time fulfillment processes will be pushed into gear, translating into faster, more reliable delivery.

It’s tempting to integrate best-of-breed applications in an attempt to orchestrate seamless processes. But trying to cobble together a matrix of disparate applications will never lend the end-to-end visibility borne on an integrated platform.

3. Optimise processes for better service 

Some 34 percent of small businesses in Australia plan to grow by strengthening customer relationships, according to the Frost & Sullivan survey. With a single real-time view of finances, resources and performance, executives have consumable data to make insight-driven business decisions. Businesses can identify trends and opportunities to innovate on their supply chain processes, and offer customer services that weren’t available before. Companies can better target limited resources to actionable opportunities for sales, marketing and customer service.

Better customer service helps optimise the supply chain itself. By zeroing in on actual customer needs, the business can guard against overstock, streamline contracts with distributors and suppliers, and project capital spend more accurately.

4. Blaze trails into new markets

The risks of expanding into overseas markets has only one quarter of those businesses surveyed by Frost & Sullivan saying growth plans include global expansion – leaving one of the richest growth areas off the table. With cloud-driven supply chains, businesses can easily scale processes to accommodate and manage international growth. For instance, inventories and fulfillments in new markets can be quickly added, reducing the cost and risks of expansion. Cloud software easily scales to accommodate peaks in demand. And complete end-to-end visibility lends insight into what products are performing well, and what products are not, to focus sales and marketing activities and prioritize new product development.

With a cloud-based supply chain platform as their partner, small businesses can realize their ambitions, whether those goals are to sustain current market share or drive global growth. By automating non-differentiating processes and leveraging data to find efficiencies, small businesses can focus on customer-centric activities to keep pace with, and even out-innovate, much larger competitors.

For more information on how cloud-based supply chain management can benefit your business, please download our whitepaper, “The Winning Supply Chain Formula for Small Businesses.” 

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