As COVID-19 continues to affect our lives, retailers have experienced the impact that large-scale crises can have on supply chain management firsthand. Last year, it forced them to adapt quickly to sudden shifts in supply and demand. Businesses thus face a new imperative in supply chain management— agility in how they manage their product inventory and pricing.
In this article, we’ll examine what this agility looks like and the technology solutions available, as part of digital transformation, to enable it in supply chain management.
Supply and demand disruption amid a global crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted different countries at different scales. Lockdowns surfaced unevenly across both regions and nations, which meant that some manufacturing chains were impacted sooner— and to a greater degree— than others.
China, for example, supplies a significant number of goods to the world. The initial reaction to the pandemic’s onset was to block all imports from China. This resulted in parts not reaching producers in other countries who assemble finished goods. In turn, retailers who sell these finished products had to handle unpredictable supply and substantial delays.
Similarly, when regions in western India, home to major textile production companies, shut down, companies in another region of India that manufactures garments also had to shut down due to insufficient supply of cloth, which impacted exports and supply to retail stores
The closure of global ports and shipping lanes additionally forced companies to either rely on more expensive forms of transit, like air freight, or cease shipping products entirely. At a regional level, containment zones were declared with little advance notice, holding trucks within the zone and increasing transport times for other trucks whose routes passed through these zones. These sudden changes in shipment planning increased delivery costs and reduced margins.
COVID-19 also generated the reverse scenario— once manufacturing lines reopened, demand dropped as communities remained under lockdown. Although goods production was once again in full swing, consumers could not venture beyond their homes, or an otherwise limited vicinity, to acquire those goods. The pandemic simultaneously generated a demand that could not be supplied and a supply that lacked sufficient demand.
Retailers have traditionally navigated changes in demand-supply using data analysis and supply chain planning tools that prescribe, simulate, and sometimes make predictions based on data collected over a period of time. In the context of a pandemic, many of these dips occurred in the span of mere days or hours. Overnight, businesses lacked the ability to fulfil existing and future customer orders, leading to poor customer experiences and supply chain planning. In these cases, supply could not meet demand, and retailers scrambled to manage their margins, offer refunds and product discounts to retain customers, and accurately assess inventory levels.
A new business imperative in supply chain management
In a global crisis like this one, in which lockdowns hinge on the decisions of diverse regional and national leaders, inventory management is paramount. Retailers cannot rely on predictive models and demand planning; they must have the ability to adapt to overnight changes in both supply and demand and manage their inventory and customer orders accordingly.
In short, businesses in B2B and B2C commerce require real-time inventory management. Such real-time management is simply not possible for companies that rely on batch updates of product inventory and pricing in multiple different commerce systems and channels. What they need is to reflect these changes immediately and consistently via updates to one system, and to reference that information through APIs in real time.
A sales representative using Salesforce B2C Commerce in conjunction with MuleSoft Composer, for example, could make an API call to the backend system, check a product’s inventory position and price, and update the customer-facing website to reflect that product’s status— all in the span of a single customer service phone call. With Composer, data is made available to all channels, which means that teams don’t have to update each channel individually for changes in price or inventory.
In addition to promoting better customer experiences in this way, MuleSoft Composer enables sales teams. Business users can set up Composer to send notifications directly to sales representatives via Slack or another internal messaging tool whenever a product inventory level or price has changed, eliminating the IT intermediary and ensuring that reps are delivering accurate, real-time experiences to their customers.
Through features offered by MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform, enterprise IT can enable business users that use Composer. Using the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform, they can easily connect to a centralized inventory management and CPQ applications using the 300+ connectors that MuleSoft offers and build APIs, through which the product’s current stock level and offer prices can be accessed in real time. Enterprise IT can also have fine-grained control to decide which business users can consume these APIs. With its API Manager, MuleSoft allows users to apply rate-limiting policies to control the frequency at which APIs are called, and its caching policy, which enables users to refer to a cache instead of the full backend when inspecting inventory and prices, reduces backend call overload. Cache control headers can be used to control the frequency of updates to cache.
MuleSoft offers retailers in both B2B and B2C commerce a viable pathway to nimble, real-time inventory and pricing management so that they can be prepared for the unexpected in local and global supply chain manufacturing.
MuleSoft Composer as an enabler for agile businesses
MuleSoft Composer is an integration solution designed to give businesses real-time access to their product inventory and pricing details. A single platform organized under an API-led approach, Composer allows businesses to implement integrations in the moment, so that they can adjust to any changes in supply and demand instantly.
There is so much power in data, yet so many business users are unable to access and use the data at their fingertips and have to rely on IT or an overdrawn project to do so.We’ve discussed how this has impacted supply chain management specifically, but the issue applies to all scales and all industries.
MuleSoft technologies drive digital transformation journeys by making data available and consumable in real time, which ultimately enables the business users within any organization. Given that, on average, business users make up nearly 70% of a company, this truly makes digital transformation possible, impactful, and collaborative. For those in the manufacturing sector, such transformation can begin by leveraging Composer’s role in inventory management to prevent disruptions across supply chain manufacturing.
Furthermore, MuleSoft has fostered a mutually beneficial alliance with HCLTech to combine its key products and solutions with HCLTech’s business expertise and industry insights to boost return on investment for retailers. HCLTech’s retail practice helps global organizations in rethinking strategies, business processes, and technology foundations to seamlessly navigate the digital labyrinth and enable business transformation across the enterprise, including the ADvantage Commerce suite for retailers. You can learn more about MuleSoft Composer and how it can power digital transformation initiatives in the MuleSoft CONNECT Session- Enable no code integrations—All with MuleSoft Composer.