If the tumult of the past two years isn’t proof enough that supply chains globally are being tested and their integration strategies scrutinized, we don’t know what is.
Never before has the topic of supply chain efficiency been as mainstream as it is today. And as the pioneer and global leader in ecosystem integration technology, based on what we’re seeing in the market and hearing from our 4,000+ customers, Cleo predicts that keen interest in these topics will continue into 2022 and beyond.
Why? Because even though supply chain technology is not the sexiest of topics, business leaders everywhere are wondering how they can improve in this critical area of digital commerce, and what strategies they should best employ to do so.
All the recent news coverage about product shortages, labor issues, port backups, and shipping bottlenecks has raised consumers’ awareness and driven home the point to business leaders that something must be done to avoid a repeat performance in the future.
From Cleo’s perspective, addressing the supply chain crisis in large part comes down to fundamentals – i.e., modernizing integration technology so companies have greater visibility and control over their digital ecosystems so they can turn on a dime and protect their “lifeline” business relationships when disruptions hit.
If the global supply chain debacle has surfaced one absolute imperative for every business affected, or one required capability that should now be at the top of every integration professional’s 2022 wish list, that need would be agility.
These days agility is a measure of survival. Agility is your ability to react and respond to any situation. Think about it: Why is it that today only the most agile companies are the dominant industry leaders – think Amazon, Walmart, Uber, or Zoom -- and any company that is not agile is at risk of slow death or extinction
Keeping the mission-criticality of supply chain integration in mind, for this blog we asked ourselves: What should integration professionals in supply chain-driven companies be mindful of going forward if they want to bring more agility to their supply chain integration solutions? What’s driving the need for it really, and what makes agility … agility?
What To Be Mindful Of in 2022
We’re all experiencing the massive acceleration of eCommerce, and it is manifesting in the drive from brick-and-mortar stores towards online retail marketplaces. And while that's been happening for years now, it has rapidly accelerated over the last 12 to 18 months to where business leaders, particularly in manufacturing and distribution, have to be very mindful of the changing dynamics in their customers’ buying patterns.
Where are people going to buy things, now that they're not going to the stores to buy goods? How can we respond quickly enough to change? If, for example, your firm was just selling in bulk distribution through EDI to a traditional retailer … but suddenly now you need to get your goods into Amazon, or be on Walmart.com, precisely how are you going to do that? What is called for from a technology perspective to enable the agility required to intelligently respond as those patterns change going forward?
Root Causes of Supply Chain Disruption
The ongoing supply chain disruptions we've been seeing have been driven by consumer demand, panic buying, distribution issues, price spiking, chip shortages, parts shortages, shipping costs going through the roof – there are myriad demand-oriented causes. And when you look at the fulfillment and delivery side, you see real dynamic changes in a constantly shifting environment.
Costco and Walmart have been renting their own ships to allow them to be reactive to distribution challenges. And many other distribution and transportation companies, in responding to this massive demand/supply imbalance, to get the most profitable use of the limited resources they have, have detected a real need to be more dynamic and agile in what they do.
But what makes agility happen, what makes it work really?
When we talk about a company having agility, we’re about its integration solutions enabling at least three key things – flexibility, velocity, and technology evolution.
Flexibility is when you have a problem to solve and you have to pick and choose from the numerous ideas that come your way. Are your systems flexible enough to permit rapid change based on what you're hearing from customers and the market?
Velocity has to do with how you get things done, both from a technology and a business perspective. This means you need ways to experiment, to fail-fast, so you can say “no” to things quickly, but not without good reason. You want to be nimble and fast to change if need be. And this is why velocity is key. If your systems give you the ability to constantly be thinking about new ways to evolve and change up the velocity of your organization’s decision-making processes, in the end, your customers and partners won't have to wait a long time to get what they're asking for.
It sounds obvious but today every company uses information technology to move its business forward. But the question is how IT is applied to further the desired business outcomes. You can bet that IT organizations will never run out of ideas of things that they might be able to do, but they do need to make sure they’re supporting where the business is trying to go, mindful of the changing market landscape as well as the security landscape.
So how do flexibility, velocity, and technology evolution help integration technologists enable their companies to attain the agility they need to embrace eCommerce acceleration and combat supply/demand disruption?
All of these aspects of agility have one thing in common: Breaking down your ideas for digital transformation into consumable pieces that can be deployed piecemeal in small bits, so you can then do some experimentation to make sure it’s achieving the outcomes desired.
Agility in this sense becomes cultural, it’s about continually evolving your IT environment by listening to your customers and ecosystem partners, constantly innovating by doing small experiments with your business goals and ecosystem relationships in mind. Deliver the best solution you can, and when things don't work, you can quickly pull them back. If you want supply chain agility, you can't be architecture first; it has to be business first, outcome first, i.e. API first.
Why APIs are core to Agility
In the modern world of integration platforms/technology, EDI and API are getting more and more woven together because thanks to the cloud the world is adopting more of an “API-first” orientation. An API-based integration is not only increasingly a baseline requirement of how companies integrate with their trading partners these days, but it's also the key elements of architecture in how software now gets built in today’s SaaS environment. With such a services orientation, where there are more encapsulations, more ability to build small things and weave them into your environment faster, you’ll achieve true agility faster.
This idea of service orientation is part of the meta-architecture you need in place so you have the ability to do technical experiments or technical innovations little by little, bits at a time, and keep it going because the landscape is going to continue to change. This is why APIs are so interesting -- because APIs lead to services, which leads to encapsulation, and this is what leads to agility
Today’s supply chains woes won’t be with us forever, but most companies have a good ways to go before they’ll feel confidently in control again. For the past two years people have been talking about the “new normal,” whatever that is But, it's not really about achieving some vaguely defined new normal. It's about, keeping things evolving, by deploying modern integration solutions that enable your business to dynamically sense and intelligently respond to change – whatever kind of change comes your way.
So, in Cleo’s view, advancing your company to outsmart disruption means first embracing the “new agile.” And to be agile, you've got to make the right decisions around technology and business, flexibility, velocity, people, and teams within your organization and across your ecosystem in order to keep up and get ahead of whatever the market throws your way.
Thankfully, with ecosystem integration, there are strategies businesses can employ to overcome today’s persistent supply chain integration challenges and gain greater agility to become winners in their industries.
And the Cleo Integration Cloud platform is built for you to do precisely that.