Connecting The Supply Chain With Visibility, Collaboration

Capabilities needed to drive sustained business improvement in the industry.

In the food and beverage industry, supply chain performance is often synonymous with overall business performance. At many companies, however, a lack of role-based visibility and collaboration limits improved performance and agility. Individuals work in functional silos with e-mail as their sole collaboration tool.

Processes are manually intensive and disconnected from back-end transaction systems. Reporting lacks detail and data is too often outdated. Ultimately, this leads to increased total costs, reduced service levels, lost revenue and excess inventory.

At Microsoft, we work closely with our food and beverage customers to help them best utilize their technology investments to solve business problems. We have seen first-hand the impact of poor supply chain visibility. A major soft drink distributor and bottler, for example, was autonomously managing its four divisions, which included a corporate office and three bottling plants.

With data isolated in disparate systems—or copied manually from one application to another—errors occurred frequently and employees had to manually verify information. In addition to missed opportunities and slowed processes, the distributor faced excessive IT costs to maintain separate hardware and software across divisions.

Driving sustained supply chain improvement by empowering workers: While is-sues such as these are found in companies of all sizes and industries, innovative companies are already pushing forward to improve collaboration and visibility while fostering an environment that empowers their people to succeed. Many of these companies are consistent in their user-centric focus, enabling workers to drive the most important business outcomes.

A key commonality we are seeing among the most successful food and beverage companies is the ability to “surface” or pull back-end application data from enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems into familiar desktop tools. This enables employees to make accurate insights and collaborate on key decisions while managing food safety and other important requirements.

Enhancing collaboration, business in-sight and process efficiency: Tyson Foods, the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, is an excellent example of the benefits of an empowered, informed workforce. With 104,000 employees working at more than 300 facilities around the world, Tyson Foods faced the challenge of organizing and sharing massive amounts of data across its enterprise.

As product and development cycles continued to accelerate, increased stress was put on already hard-to-find data and personnel resources. The result was communication gaps, workflow delays and the inability to act on market insights in real-time. By deploying a company-wide collaboration platform, Tyson Foods was able to connect business users and partners with back-end ERP business processes, as well as surface business data into the company’s existing desktop programs for improved insights.

Creating a collaborative environment that empowers your workers can speed decision-making across product development, manufacturing and supply chain processes. This ultimately requires an approach to role-based productivity that fuses two otherwise disparate worlds, presenting valuable back-end data and information to users in a collaborative, familiar environment.

Actionable data and workflows can then be extended to business partners, customers, and suppliers. Whether it’s the latest consumer trend, green packaging requirement, promotion or FDA regulation, users now have the tools they need to drive real-time business decisions.

The beverage distributor and bottler we referenced at the start of this column seized the opportunity after consolidating its key transaction systems and created a user-centric business intelligence foundation. In addition to enhancing decision making by providing users with easy access to key reports, the distributor projects more than half a million in annual savings as a result of increased productivity, improved collaboration and reduced IT costs.

Enabling visibility and collaboration in your business: Despite significant investments in ERP and other IT projects, food and beverage companies continue to struggle with collaboration and visibility across their supply chains. Our experience shows that there are certain key capabilities that are required for sustainable supply chain improvements:

Actionable visibility: Users can work across multiple underlying systems—such as ERP, planning, CRM, shop floor —with real-time, connected views and bi-directional integration.

Role and exception-based analytics: Users focus on alerts and exceptions that are presented through a self-service model with linked key performance indicators and metrics throughout the organization.

Flexible collaboration and workflow: Users can access simplified workflows across roles and partners with structured and unstructured collaboration, extending the reach of supply chain data.

To drive these capabilities, food and beverage organizations must utilize their existing information technology investments and begin to green-light small, targeted supply chain projects that are built on an extendable, scalable collaboration and visibility technology platform. By taking these steps, you’ll gain a clear view of the data that drives your business and the path to delivering more profitable customer experiences.

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