Planes, trains, and automobiles… Supply and demand really does make the world go round. And keeping it turning means getting products where they need to be—not just ‘on time’, but in a timely fashion. No one knows this better than North Highland. We were recently recognized in an ALM Intelligence report as a Supply Chain Leader in Management Consulting, as well as in the Gartner Market Guide for Supply Chain Strategy, Planning and Operations Consulting.
In the ALM report, North Highland is named as one of nine management consulting firms that delivers an end-to-end series of processes involved in the production and distribution of a service or product. This really is the entire A-Z—from planning through product delivery. In the Gartner report, the firm received high marks in six core Supply Chain areas, including Overall Supply Chain Strategy, Network Design, Digital Supply Chain Strategy, Warehouse and Distribution Operations, Transportation Operations, and Store and Multichannel Operations – one of the only enterprise management consulting firms excelling in these top-tier capabilities.
Two of our firm’s supply chain leaders, Andrew Billings and Randy Moore, unpack these recent acknowledgements. Here, they also dive into our new partnership with Berkshire Grey, the front runner in AI-enabled robotic solutions that automate supply chain processes. We’ve joined forces to create the next generation of resilient supply chains through the intelligent robotic automation of e-commerce fulfillment, store replenishment, and package handling.
What challenges are supply chain enterprises experiencing right now, and what solutions are you tapping into?
We’ve found that our retail and consumer goods clients (the core of our supply chain portfolio) are facing a common set of challenges:
- Accelerated e-commerce growth is putting a strain on fulfillment operations and requiring businesses to develop faster speed to customer capabilities. As a result, it’s acting as a catalyst for refreshing distribution network strategies.
- Abnormal supply and demand swings are pushing the need for enhanced inventory planning practices, such as workforce upskilling, advanced analytics, and new digital tools.
- The widespread labor shortage is causing businesses to re-examine their short- and long-term distribution operation strategies. This includes physical automation, performance management processes and tools, and associate compensation structures.
How do you help clients sift through the countless options and select the right digital tools to improve their distribution operations?
The recent advancement in tools—from control towers to labor planning solutions—is incredibly encouraging to distribution leaders. That said, the potential value of these tools varies extensively depending on a client’s specific operational circumstances. That could be the size and concentration of their network, labor intensity, their service or speed requirements, or business growth and variability forecasts, among many other factors. North Highland always considers these particular elements of a client’s supply chain network when establishing potential digital tools.
The ALM report highlights our transformation from a traditional strategy and operations firm to a digital-driven management consulting leader. What would you say is North Highland’s ‘secret sauce’?
This will sound a bit bizarre, but our ‘secret sauce’ is to not always begin with digital! What we start with is understanding—understanding a client’s short- and long-term objectives (and their current state capability maturity), before going into our recommendations. We find that, in many cases, significant process enhancements and workforce upskilling is required before moving on to introduce new digital tools. While chasing the next new ‘shiny object’ is a strong temptation, the foundational elements of a client’s supply chain need to take precedence.
Our partnership with Berkshire Grey will build the next generation of resilient supply chains through intelligent robotic automation. Why should clients think about automating their processes?
We’re extremely excited to partner with Berkshire Grey within this increasingly important area of distribution optimization. The growth in distribution robotics investment is being powered by several factors, including:
- Labor market constraints
- Customer speed expectations
- Avoidance of standing up new DCs
Supply chain enterprises should take note if they want to remain agile, resilient, and competitive.
The supply chain space is rapidly transforming. What can we expect to see in two or three years from now, and how can retailers get ahead of what’s to come?
In a world dominated by constant chaos, supply chain disruption is now the new normal—and we predict this will remain the case for the next few years. Leaders will have to fast-track their plans and initiatives to address:
- Ongoing port congestion and traffic, along with driver shortages
- A movement to more domestic and/or near-sourcing of products
- Labor shortages, and the corresponding rising wages
- The continued acceleration of digital and e-commerce, plus a heavy volume of reverse logistics
- Consumers’ concern around sustainability issues
To discover more about our work in the retail and consumer goods space, as well as our latest sector-specific insights, head to the dedicated page on our website.
*Gartner, Market Guide for Supply Chain Strategy, Planning and Operations Consulting, By Michael Dominy, 10 November 2021
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