Data Mastery: Laying a Foundation for High-Performance Supply Chains

Inventory visibility won’t lessen in importance when the grocery industry comes out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Just two years ago, GEODIS estimated that only 6% of companies globally believed they had full visibility into their supply chains. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that in RSR’s 2020 benchmark report, “The Retail Supply Chain: Designing New Ways to Satisfy Demand,” 76% of the highest performing retailers surveyed identified “real-time visibility across the supply chain” as their top focus area for improving supply chain performance, compared to 54% of average and under-performing retailers.

Retailers recognize the need to know exactly where their product is, and the challenges of limited visibility make it even harder for retailers to respond quickly to changing consumer demands and coronavirus-triggered supply disruptions. Center-store items are flying off the shelves as consumers make purchases to feel better equipped to weather “shelter-in-place” mandates, and perishable food items are just as likely to disappear from produce sections and deli counters as shoppers stock up. Many grocers are communicating a sense of proactive calm, reassuring customers that there is more than enough to go around and committing to replenishing across the store every single day. Even still, supply chains are experiencing extraordinary demand, posing logistical challenges for retailers across the board and straining the extended supply chain reach from manufacture down to the consumer.

Inventory visibility won’t lessen in importance when the grocery industry comes out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because a lack of visibility is a primary driver of supply chain inefficiencies, organizations must consider the sufficiency of their data model that unites their fast-moving consumer goods ecosystem. Retailers must understand the flow of operations for products, suppliers, stores, franchises, e-commerce, networks, merchandise structures, pricing, promotions, sales, replenishment and inventory visibility. For them to have a grasp on these variables, data has to be accurate, consolidated into a single source of truth and then made accessible to teams across the business.

Master data management governs the supply chain, making it consistent and uniform

In establishing a core method of master data management (MDM), an organization streamlines information as the valuable asset it is, and in doing so, enables real-time understanding of critical information around products. Master data management defines the overall view of how inventory is served up for a retailer, laying the foundation for inventory strategies and giving retailers the always-on understanding of where products are in the supply chain. From inventory stocked in stores and distribution centers to inventory leaving the store in a customer’s basket, curbside pick-up, or via an online order, retailers can have all of their systems connected to one master inventory view. Effective MDM even gives visibility into the particulars of fresh foods—immediate insight into supplier origination for possible recalls; nutritional information, recipes and ingredient lists for in-store kitchens; and most importantly, sell-by and expiration dates needed to optimize full-price sales and avoid food waste.

With disparate foundational systems scattered in different areas of the business, synching data across the digital divide is nearly impossible. The data may even be up-to-date and useful in the area in which it exists, but without connection to other systems and unity through every link in the supply chain, decisions made around inventory, purchasing, fulfillment and store operations will be inaccurate. However, with a 360-degree view of business operations and armed with all of the relevant retail data they need, retailers can be agile and effective decision-makers. What’s more, MDM empowers easy data sharing, breaking down silos to critical information and expediting the improvement of supply chain performance.

Unified data brings efficiency and speed to teams involved in inventory management

A perpetual understanding of inventory is essential for supply chain efficiency, especially for retailers managing fresh items and needing to track dates associated with perishability. Prioritizing the movement of inventory that is closest to expiration out of the warehouse is important for eliminating waste. Another inventory scenario to consider in the quest for accurate data is that of launching new products. With MDM, no time is wasted in bringing new items to market. Every necessary detail for new item introduction, and all affected teams internally are on one system, working off the same song sheet, to put it musically. Having a mastery of data on one platform helps to decrease manual intervention and facilitates the harmonious working together of a retailer’s business disciplines.

Before a new product finds its home on a shelf, all teams must be in sync and have access to the same data; someone in the corporate office buying the merchandise from a supplier must work in tandem with the category manager, who needs to understand the impact on other products in that category; the individual who manages store layout and store operations teams must have the data they need to physically put it on the shelf when the time is right. Even after everyone is on the same page, a single platform speeds the item to market because it’s not being queued up separately, 10 different times, in separate systems and workflows. MDM helps to decrease manual intervention and facilitates a unified workflow for all teams responsible for launching products.

Supply chain modernization through MDM is key to staying competitive

Retail executives want to modernize; they’re looking at the bottom line and pursuing initiatives that will push them to the next level of efficiency while delivering a significant reduction in costs. As they do so, many do not prioritize the essential basic foundation to govern the supply chain and unify all technology decisions. Just as a foundation acts as a level, steady surface on which to build a house, master data management brings consistency and stability to a retail organization unifying a high-performing supply chain. To be structurally sound, supply chains need to be underpinned with unified data – end-to-end retail data management or MDM – that allow teams to make more consistent and effective business decisions related to inventory, forecasting and replenishment. If you’re going to run an efficient and high-performing supply chain ­– especially one that enables a quick response to the nuances of fast-moving consumer goods retail and pandemic-influenced consumer behavior – you need to master your data.