As consumers adopt greater power, and become ever more fickle in their choice of brands and suppliers, those trying to attract and keep their business are applying pressure all the way back down the supply chain. In a business-to-business context the challenges are no slighter as customers expect goods to be readily available to them at any time.

However complex the distribution chain is, there is no longer any place to hide. The most successful companies place great value on going the extra mile to develop lifetime relationships and actively look for opportunities to improve their service offerings above and beyond their customers’ expectations. To satisfy this demand, technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated to enable a product’s journey from manufacturer to distributor, from wholesaler to retailer, and from retailer to consumer, to be tracked in minute detail.

Despite the challenges facing supply chain organisations, the latest forecasts for 2013 for distribution and transport businesses are encouraging. A recent survey conducted for The Co-operative Bank by YouGov found that more than a third of small and mid-sized businesses working in the sector expect their business to grow this year – with 45% planning investment and over a third hoping to take on more staff. Striking the right balance means operating a tight and efficient fleet by leveraging the latest technology to combine real-time location and stock keeping unit (SKU) information.

While operators of large fleets are likely to have some form of GPS/telematics technology in place to track vehicles’ progress, integrated end-to-end delivery management systems go much further in enabling organisations to drive down distribution costs, improve customer service and make more efficient use of their fleet and resources. A 20% reduction in operating expenditures, and 10% savings on fuel and vehicle maintenance reduction costs, is not unusual when integrating delivery management systems into your business’s core back-office applications.

Key functionality to look out for in a comprehensive solution include:

  • Vehicle-tracking functionality – providing real-time information and visibility of the whole delivery and collection process, from dispatch to the point of delivery or collection
  • Route scheduling and route compliance analysis, maximising driver hours and ensuring efficient use of fuel while allowing for changes to be made in real time – for example as road conditions change, orders are cancelled or delivery times are swapped
  • Electronic proof of delivery (ePOD), the use of signature on glass technology reducing the opportunity for false claims or goods going missing and minimising inefficient and costly paper-based proof of delivery
  • Web-enabled access with mobile compatibility for smartphones and tablet devices

Supply chain efficiency is all about having access to accurate and timely information, and the ability to quickly change course if unforeseen situations arise. Unless this can be carried right through the various elements of delivery management, productivity improvements and service enhancements introduced in one area could be undermined by shortcomings elsewhere.

Thanks to the continued shift to e-commerce, the outlook for the distribution industry is encouraging. Companies’ ability to capitalise on the expected growth is down to their own initiative, and not just the extent to which they invest in technology, but the way they approach and deploy it.