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The future of logistics lies in technology. Here, Craig Powell, Managing Director at supply chain technology provider Balloon One, outlines how embracing digitisation could boost efficiency and agility in the construction supply chain.

Over the past year and a half, many sectors have faced disruption, including the construction industry. 2020 saw construction output dip to unprecedented levels as a result of the COVID pandemic.

Now, construction activity has risen to a 24-year high, and the supply chain has struggled to keep up with the surge in demand. 77% of UK construction companies are citing longer lead times as one of the major hurdles facing the industry today, according to data from the IHS Markit / CIPS UK Construction PMI®.

It’s certainly been a rocky year for the construction supply chain, and it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality if you want to keep up. By embracing digitisation, whether that’s by implementing warehouse management systems (WMS) or automating your procurement processes, you can benefit from increased efficiency and agility.

Below, I’ll be explaining how your business can benefit from digitisation.

Improved stock management

In times when supply can’t keep up with demand, prior planning is vital. With WMS and digitally automated stock management, you can gather accurate, up-to-date information regarding stock levels. This allows you to be much more efficient with forward ordering, so you can get ahead of demand and anticipate shortages of products before they occur, reducing lead times and the likelihood of a stockout.

Not only does this mean you have all the data there at the touch of a button, but you no longer need to rely on manual stock management or regular inventory counts. As a result, the whole process can run much more smoothly and efficiently, as there’s less chance of human error, and it frees up staff to work in other areas.

Better communication

What makes the construction supply chain so unique is that one wrong order could prove costly to businesses, suppliers, and projects. This makes accurate communication vital for everything to run smoothly.

With Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, you can link and manage every step of the supply chain, including stock control, sales, and procurement, all from one place. Everyone has access to the same data, meaning communication is more efficient and problems can be addressed quicker.

This is especially important if you rely on third-party providers for areas of your supply chain, such as a third-party logistics or storage company. Increased transparency means you have much more control over the process, meaning you can catch any potential issues early and rectify them if there’s any disruption.

Plus, many versions can be integrated with your current business management software or WMS with minimal disruption, meaning everything can be controlled from one place. As a result, trading with suppliers, partners, and customers is much more seamless.

Improved transport management

Along with WMS, transport management systems (TMS) allow for more efficient route planning, so you can optimise your delivery and collection routes and speed up lead times. Many TMS also allow for real-time vehicle tracking of in-house or third-party logistics providers, so you can see how each order is progressing. This can then improve communication between suppliers and site managers since, if there are any delays, customers can be updated immediately.

All of this can be integrated into your WMS too, meaning you can control every process all from one piece of software, boosting efficiency even more.

Increased flexibility

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s just how vital it is for businesses to be flexible. With WMS, you can streamline your processes by improving communication between departments and seeing which areas of the supply chain are holding things up. This means you can simplify and optimise any areas that need it to improve efficiency. It’s also likely that a more streamlined process is much more flexible, allowing you to adapt to challenges much more quickly.

A good warehouse management system should be able to grow with your business, so investing in scalable technology is a must. This will make it much easier for you to adapt to spikes in demand, such as those we’re seeing now. When demand is low, you’ll also be able to downscale your WMS to save energy and resources — all with very little disruption to the rest of your processes. In turn, this will make the supply chain much more agile and better equipped to deal with any future disruptions like the ones we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic.

In the digital age, it’s vital for construction supply chains to integrate automated technologies. Not only can it help to increase communication and efficiency, but WMS, TMS, and ERP software can make the whole supply chain much more agile — something that’s been vital over the past year.

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