From empty store shelves to out-of-stock website notifications, Canadian retailers – and their customers – are feeling the pain of the pandemic’s impact on global supply chains. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of it abating soon with 70 per cent of small businesses reporting supply chain challenges as a big issue for their organization in 2022.

Meanwhile, consumer buying habits have dramatically shifted due to the pandemic as well, to the extent that over half of North American buyers said they have changed the way they will shop going forward. Not only are consumers purchasing more goods and services online, but they are increasingly prioritizing stock availability over retailer loyalty.

With the boom in e-commerce and supply chain woes expected to continue for the foreseeable future, retailers are having to rethink their supply chains to make them more responsive, and resilient. One way to accomplish this is by modernizing and digitizing supply chain operations in the cloud.

Cloud computing has become a game-changer for many companies, enabling them to collect and process huge amounts of data from virtually every point across the supply chain in real time. With a single view of all of their supply chain data, organizations are able to generate critical insights that can improve decision-making.

For retailers, the cloud’s vast computing power opens a myriad of possibilities to strengthen their supply chains, including three highlighted below:

1. Break down data silos

For many companies, data silos – whether between internal departments or with external trading partners – are a major barrier to effective decision-making. Having disparate databases that aren’t able to talk to each other makes it difficult for suppliers, manufacturers, logistics providers and other partners across the supply chain to plan and act on accurate information.

The cloud is a powerful tool for data integration, allowing organizations to centralize all their supply chain data to create a network view. This helps retailers, in particular, keep track of their inventory levels and ensure they have the products in stock to deliver on their promise to the customer. Bridging silos and making data accessible across the company leads to smarter, real-time inventory planning.

2. Improve demand forecasting

Delivering an exceptional online shopping experience hinges on a retailer’s ability to offer the right products that consumers are asking for, when, and where they want them. To better anticipate and keep pace with changing market demand, companies are deploying advanced tools; such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT), to unlock valuable business insights from their vast data sets.

Based in the cloud, these “intelligent” technologies can improve a retailer’s responsiveness to supply chain disruptions by enabling a manager to identify events and make proactive decisions on the spot, while also allowing them to create rule-based decisions for more basic, anticipated tasks.

Just as navigation apps assist drivers in mapping out the optimal route based on current traffic conditions, supply chain cloud platforms can help retailers utilize vital information – such as a shipment delay, a manufacturing stoppage or inclement weather – to determine the next-best actions for mitigating the risk.

3. Enhance collaboration

Retailers can only be responsive to ever-changing consumer demand if information is shared along the entire value chain. They need a supply chain ecosystem that promotes end-to-end visibility and collaboration among all stakeholders, from suppliers and manufacturers to their logistics providers and end customers.

Yet, according to a Deloitte study, only 15 per cent of procurement leaders report having good visibility beyond their direct (tier 1) suppliers. Cloud solutions are facilitating this journey to greater transparency, helping organizations centralize their communications with trading partners and integrate data from their partners’ proprietary systems regardless of geographical boundary.

In fact, some companies are using the cloud to create a “control tower” that connects partners and service providers for better supply chain coordination and orchestration. This provides real-time transparency at every point in the supply chain, which in turn, allows decision-makers to detect and act on problems at the earliest stage.

Among the many lessons the global pandemic has taught us is the need for more adaptive and resilient supply chains. Retailers are especially challenged with finding solutions that provide a higher level of visibility, flexibility, and intelligence in their supply chains moving forward. The answer they seek is in the cloud.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
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Mathieu Moquin
Mathieu Moquin is currently serving as vice president of operations at iWeb, a subsidiary of Leaseweb Global. In this role, Moquin leads the company’s Cloud and Hosting operations groups, which include data center operations, IT, service delivery and customer technical support. Prior to iWeb, Moquin held various operations positions of increasing responsibility at INAP.