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innovation and supply chain management

Innovation is at the heart of many kinds of success. For supply chain management, innovation means making a business more efficient by improving the way inventory and logistics are handled. There are currently supply chain management tools for supply chain professionals looking to improve the function of their business.

1. Use Predictive Analytics and Machine-Learning

Big data doesn’t do a lot of good without ways to use it to solve problems. This problem-solving is the function of advanced analytics and machine learning technologies, both essential supply chain management tools. They can predict outcomes from various supply chain scenarios, make recommendations, and manage supply risk, for example.

This data also combines well with robotics to automate the factory floor. Rethink Robotics, for example, uses robotics and machine learning to respond to customer demands in the manufacturing center.  

2. Use Corporate Cards to Streamline Your Supply Chain Payments

While personal shopping cards like ApplePay and Google Wallet are likely more familiar, there are B2B methods, like EuroPay, MasterCard, and Visa, of speeding up payments through virtual cards. Streamlined and secure, more and more suppliers are now accepting these cards, and, in turn, more buyers are turning to businesses that do accept them. These automated payments make supply chains more efficient by reducing processing errors and eliminating invoicing.

3. Strategize Outside Your Current Boundaries

Many companies thinking about ways to innovate their supply chain are focused on what they can do within their current partnerships and arrangements. What some supply chain professionals fail to think about is how they might be able to forge new arrangements within their supply chain to improve productivity and do a better job of meeting their target benchmarks.

Take, for example, United Technologies Corporation, which is planning on closing or reconfiguring manufacturing space in a $1.5 billion plan through 2018. The company wants to save money by receiving less expensive supplies and moving their factories to cheaper places. The weak link, UTC’s chief executive says, is still the supply chain.

4. Improve Your Operating Techniques

There are all types of companies looking for the latest high-tech supply chain management tools to make their supply chain division more effective. However, what some companies unfortunately neglect is the way that their supply chain team operates.

One way that many supply chain professionals have been able to improve efficiency is through incorporating a Japanese philosophy of business improvement known as Kaizen. Kaizen is a process philosophy that emphasizes teamwork, lean manufacturing, and allowing employees to provide input on the process. Kaizen has been utilized by major companies like Toyota and Lockheed Martin to improve the production part of their supply chain.

These are some of the innovative techniques for supply chain management, but they are only a limited sampling of what is possible in the world of supply chain management tools. If you are looking to make your supply chain as efficient as possible, be sure to stay abreast of developments in the industry that could help you greatly improve the structure of your supply chain.

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Editor's Note: This blog was originally published January 1, 2015 and has since been updated and expanded upon with new information. 

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About Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson is AFFLINK'S Vice President of Marketing and Communications. He has been with the organization since 2005 and provides strategic leadership for the entire supply chain team. In his free time, Michael enjoys working with the Wounded Warrior Project, fishing, and improving his cooking skills.

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