Supply chain collaboration software: best practices and benefits

Sara Shaughnessy

Sara Shaughnessy,

Content Editor at Front

3 January 20230 min read

What is it, how do you use it, and what does the future hold for the space?

In today’s global and interconnected markets, effective collaboration is critical for optimizing processes, reducing costs, and ensuring customer satisfaction. Software solutions streamline and automate collaborative efforts, fostering stronger relationships, boosting operational efficiency, and driving overall business success.

What is supply chain collaboration?

Supply chain collaboration is a unified effort between suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers where they join forces, share info, and synchronize all supply chain activities by working together, reducing costs, and keeping customers happy. 

What is supply chain collaboration software? 

Supply chain collaboration software refers to a digital solution or platform designed to facilitate collaboration and coordination among everyone involved in a supply chain network.

It serves as a centralized hub where businesses, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and other partners can connect, exchange information, and work together. 

The software typically offers features like the following: 

  • Real-time communication

  • Data sharing

  • Demand forecasting

  • Inventory management and analytics

  • Enabling seamless collaboration

  • Improved decision-making

  • Greater efficiency across the entire supply chain ecosystem. 

Its purpose is to enhance communication and customer support, facilitate information flow and foster stronger relationships among supply chain partners. More connection = better business outcomes 🤝

Key features of supply chain collaboration software

Real-time communication and information sharing

Supply chain collaboration software enables real-time communication and information sharing with a centralized platform for all supply chain stakeholders to connect and exchange data instantly. Users can communicate with each other in real time, regardless of their physical locations, which eliminates delays in communication.

The software integrates with various data sources and systems, consolidating information from multiple parties into a single, accessible interface. All stakeholders have up-to-date and accurate data and a shared understanding of the supply chain status in real time.

Inventory and demand management

The right software allows for efficient inventory and demand management. It provides real-time visibility into inventory levels, integrating demand forecasting tools, facilitating collaboration between stakeholders, and automating replenishment processes. This allows for optimal inventory levels and reduces stockouts - improving overall supply chain efficiency.

Supplier relationship management

Supply chain technology also enables effective supplier relationship management. It centralizes supplier information, facilitating seamless communication and collaboration, tracking supplier performance, and managing contracts and negotiations. This strengthens relationships and paves the way for continuous improvement in supplier partnerships.

Data analytics and reporting

Data and reporting capabilities provide valuable insights into supply chain performance.

The data collected, analyzed, and visualized by the software allows  businesses to identify trends, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement. Leaders can make customizable reports, dashboards, and metrics, empowering them to make informed choices and optimize supply chain operations.

Benefits of implementing supply chain collaboration software

Implementing supply chain collaboration software supercharges business operations in a number of ways 🦸 

1. Improves visibility and transparency across the supply chain by providing real-time updates and a centralized platform for information sharing. 

2. Enhances synchronization among stakeholders through seamless communication and collaboration. This reduces delays, minimizes errors, and improves overall efficiency.

3. Enables businesses to achieve cost reductions and optimized inventory levels through accurate demand forecasting, inventory tracking, and automated replenishment functionalities. This prevents overstocking, reduces carrying costs, and minimizes stockouts. 

4. Allows businesses to be more agile and responsive to market changes. Market volatility is a constant. With improved visibility, real-time data, and effective communication, businesses can swiftly address supply chain disruptions and seize new opportunities. 

How to choose supply chain collaboration software

The supply chain space can be complex and it can be hard to sift through the logistics noise and terminology. Choosing the right supply chain collaboration software can be a game-changer for your business, but it’s crucial to stay thoughtful during the selection process. 

Start by assessing your business needs and objectives. 

  • What specific challenges are you facing? 

  • What goals do you want to achieve over the next 6 months, one year, three years?

  • What systems (if any) do you have in place to evaluate new software?

  • What pitfalls to bringing on new tools should you avoid?

  • Who has recommended which software and why?

In logistics, word of mouth is important - as Will Kerr, CEO of Edge Logistics says, I never really look that hard at a new technology product that someone that I really trust hasn’t recommended. It’s a pretty tight group in freight, we’ve all worked with each other and know each other at least through a secondary connection at worst. With the good stuff, the word really spreads. So I think positive referrals and word of mouth is by far the most powerful way to market technology. 

Referrals are a powerful way to ensure you’re bringing on a pre-tested and highly-vetted tool. You can also talk to other leaders using it about use cases for it, compare functionality, etc. 

Next, evaluate the software’s functionality and scalability. 

  • Does it have the essential features you need? 

  • What pain is it alleviating in your business?

  • How much money can this new tool potentially save you?

  • Are capabilities in expertise on your team from a talent standpoint?

  • Can it grow with your business? 

Jay Gustafson, EVP of brokerage operations at Echo Global Logistics, approaches it like the following: Sometimes, we’ll come across some new tech and it’s a no-brainer to adopt it. Other situations might require debate internally on whether we can build this ourselves - or if it’s a single integration we have to connect, why would we use an aggregator in that situation? We have those open conversations, but we try to approach it as objectively as possible. 

Compatibility is also key, so consider integration capabilities with your existing systems. Seamless data exchange is vital for efficiency. 

When it comes to measuring success and ROI, Will relies on his internal team for decision making on whether a tool is worth keeping. He says My method is pretty simple: I try to cut everything every year and then have my team fight for what they want. Every year, we’ve tried to either scale back or cut Front, because we’re like well, why are we using this?, why do we have so many users?, why does it cost so much? Every year, teams defend it wholeheartedly. If my internal team will come up and defend the technology we’re using and say they want to allocate their budget to that solution because it provides that value, then that’s pretty much all I need to hear.

Thinking about ROI, Jay says that for any new technology that they invest in, before they even go into a proof of concept, they’ll have some form of revenue margin efficiency hypothesis they build an ROI model around. After they go live, they diligently measure it - and if things aren’t going as expected, they seek to understand why.

With the right questions in place to determine new technology to bring on and its efficacy, you can devise a thorough strategy to adopt the most impactful tools for your business.

The future of supply chain collaboration

Supply chain collaboration software has vastly improved the coordination and efficiency of stakeholders across the supply chain, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Now, businesses need to consider how this treasure trove of information can be leveraged to even better serve their customers.

Retail, manufacturing, and logistics companies have turned to Front, a customer operations platform that streamlines customer and partner communication and simplifies collaboration internally and across the supply chain.

Front especially plays a significant role in helping with multi-stakeholder aspects of supply chain collaboration. For example, freight brokers roles are super collaborative and involve the broker talking to a shipper, carrier, and then other stakeholders like the warehouse to schedule pickup for the carrier. Scheduling is a big pain point for freight brokers, and Convoy, J.B. Hunt and Uber Freight have formed a Scheduling Standards Consortium (SSC) to establish freight appointment scheduling standards that provide consistent visibility into the supply chain.

Priority1, a technology-enabled third-party logistics company, leveraged Front to accomplish both of its goals - dramatically improving customer satisfaction through efficient response time, and alleviating stress on team members with overflowing inboxes. Team members now have full visibility in their shared inbox, so they can see if another team member has already responded to a customer inquiry. Additionally, team members can tag colleagues for input or assign messages that require specific knowledge. Front has made Priority1 employees lives easier, reducing their stress level and increasing their confidence that they’re performing at a high level.

Another Front customer, ITF Group, a full-service 3PL (3rd party logistics) company, needed a technology that could give them group collaboration working with people across the world. The team turned to Front and now can easily manage shipper, carrier, and internal communication in a single place. With Fronts built-in analytics, ITF can track improvements in response times to customers, reaction time, emails sent, messages sent, assigned conversations, reply times, and more. Front also helps ITF measure the workload of each employee and assess their performance in real-time - a capability that enables them to distribute workloads fairly among team members.

For Estes Forwarding Worldwide (EFW), a leading domestic and international freight forwarder in the US, the team needed a solution to manage a flood of emails overwhelming employees. Front reduced the email noise, and the Manager of Business Process Improvement called Front a no-brainer for teams that have a high volume of email, share an inbox, or collaborate with each other to service their customer. 

With the right supply chain collaboration software and customer operations platform for your team, you can make collaboration seamless, speed processes, and boost customer service - increasing the amount your team can accomplish and keeping everyone happy along the way.

Check out Front

Want to learn more about the ways Front could help your logistics, manufacturing, and retail teams? Read more here

Written by Sara Shaughnessy

Originally Published: 3 January 2023

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