One of the most significant factors, if not the most significant one that contributes to a successful supply chain, is transparency. That’s particularly true for grocers or any retailers managing a complex food supply chain – with the inherent risks associated with fresh produce, it simply has to be.
Thanks to evolving consumer demand driven by a desire for higher quality products, more personalisation, a focus on sustainability and ‘ethical’ produce as well as the ‘need it now’ nature of modern digital consumerism, the challenge of transparency is more complex than ever.
Today, retailers must not only maintain visibility throughout their supply chain to ensure success, but also demonstrate a sense of shared ethical values to consumers whilst managing increasing regulatory scrutiny and a growing network of partners.
According to Sue Welch, CEO of product lifecycle management (PLM) platform Bamboo Rose, the answer lies in a strong, collaborative community underpinned by digital technology. “In trying to get up to speed with any challenges, and ensuring transparency and visibility, you’re only as fast as your slowest partner,” she says.
“Bamboo Rose is a true end-to-end product that starts with ideation, through PLM, sourcing, order management, global trade management and sales order management but, at its heart, it’s all about the community,” Welch adds. “Ensuring that strong community exists is how our technology helps retailers. By having a system where everyone collaborates on the same platform, everyone wins – that’s where you can really make huge improvements and drive down costs.”
Modern supply chains are incredibly complex, whether a business is operating nationally or internationally. Such an environment means that the implementation of innovative digital solutions, such as that offered by Bamboo Rose, are essential.
Gone are the days when products could be tracked merely by spreadsheet, or partners managed and contacted via phone or email. These archaic methods, according to Welch, make it all too easy for “things to fall through the cracks” because they are typically disconnected technologies used in isolation by partners.
Instead, implementing a digital platform allows for more streamlined and efficient supply chain collaboration, thus resulting in improved transparency. “To achieve that visibility, it’s vital to have a multi-enterprise platform,” Welch explains. “It’s no longer just about you; it’s about everyone in the community. As soon as you have everyone on the same platform you have records, validations and verifications that increase transparency. It’s also invaluable should something unplanned occur.”
One source of truth
Grocery retailers, says Welch, need ‘one source of truth’ whereby technology manages complex supply chains from end to end, increasing visibility and communication with all suppliers and partners to put transparency at the forefront.
Bamboo Rose’s digital B2B marketplace is an innovative platform that connects the retail community to offer benefits such as reduced time to market, increased efficiency, a system of record at every link in the chain and more. It’s a concept that was borne out of Sue’s previous experience in international sourcing.
“It comes from what I witnessed when actively working out there in the field and with suppliers,” she states. “One thing I saw very early on was that communication with partners in the supply chain was so fragmented and delayed that it was causing many problems in all areas of the supply chain. Building Bamboo Rose, it was really important for me to take into account all the differing needs and perspectives of those many players.”
To give an example of exactly how that works in practice, Welch discusses a typical project that shows the scope of Bamboo Rose’s end-to-end activity. It all starts, she says, with the PLM phase and the product development – typically, materials, ingredients and so on. Based around the specific attributes of products or materials Bamboo Rose identifies any early-stages issues around compliance, cost or testing, for example. After which, suppliers are consulted to ensure that the best price – and best product – are sourced successfully.
“At every stage, it’s all about taking on the ‘heavy lifting’ and making it as simple as possible for the customer,” she adds. “Once suppliers are selected we handle the purchase order – by the time the customer has reached this stage it should already be very simple, reducing the typical time of getting an order out from up to 30 days to the click of a button.
“We monitor everything at the supplier’s site too, from receiving raw materials, product care, health and safety inspections and more, to give visibility of all those parties that are involved in producing, defining and testing the product. Once the product is ready to be shipped we’ll then manage carriers, booking requests, any problems with the order, commercial invoices and goods tracking, borders and customs and final project completion. Again, it’s about making it all work for everyone in that community.”
Transparency at every stage
The key, then, is about managing the minutiae and providing a solution that offers true transparency at every stage. The complexity of any supply chain means that the simplest of errors can cause significant problems, as Welch indicates in an example involving the US Fishing and Wildlife Service.
In this instance, one company produced an item that included a fake feather. When the supplier found an alternative source for the feather it became a real feather, a change that no other supply chain partner was aware of. The result saw not only hold ups at the border, but also concerns around possible fraudulent documentation due to no other parties being aware.
“If the customer were on our platform,” Welch expands, “it would have noted that a component supplier had changed during the process and would have triggered a response from us. In that instance, the one small error cost the company around $6mn.”
Legal and ethical compliance
Of course, it’s not only regulations that are driving transparency. Consumers today have a greater awareness of the implications not only of food safety, but also sustainability and ethically produced goods. It’s a simple fact that people are far more concerned with point of origin for their food products, requiring true end-to-end supply chain visibility that gives a detailed look at the whole process and the ability to precisely locate any problem.
For the latter, Bamboo Rose “creates a full supplier profile,” Welch comments. “It’s really important as a retailer to have visibility of testing and audit companies, data around workforce, human rights, safety of workers and associated legal and ethical compliance. Many of the brands we work with really understand the importance of introducing their sustainability programmes to the market and their consumers.”
The speed at which the retail sector continues to progress is formidable. And while change may be one of the biggest challenges for any business or organisation – particularly when introducing a supply chain-wide development – innovation is essential for ongoing success.
According to Welch, with a change in mindset it’s possible for advanced technology like Bamboo Rose’s platform to significantly improve visibility. “One thing we previously encountered was a retailer or supplier bringing on a new system, and only bringing it on for themselves. That attitude is a huge mistake and, as I’ve explained, success can only be achieved by understanding every partner in the community.
“There will always be challenges, but the beauty of technology is that you can easily filter out anything that can disrupt a supply chain. By having that platform in place, you can achieve true transparency – if you know something is authenticated or validated you know it can be trusted. It’s all about trust.”