Warehouses can be chaotic environments, with endless orders to fulfill, inventory numbers constantly in flux and paperwork that always needs to be kept organized. The back office plays a critical role in ensuring smooth operations within the warehouse. In reality, the path from idea to invoice is a long one. Administrative tasks, sales, marketing, IT, engineering, product development and other ‘behind–the-scenes’ activities are critical pieces of the overall health of a wholesale distribution business. In fact, 60-80 percent of all costs related to completing a customer order are administrative-based. On the flip side, if back office operations are inefficient and deeply time consuming, it can negatively affect the bottom line, and inefficiencies can seep into the warehouse itself and impact the quality of customer service.
With competitive pressures like Amazon.com and manufacturers hitting wholesale distributors from all sides, staying lean and taking advantage of the latest advances in automation technology to streamline workflows across the organization is now a decision many wholesalers cannot afford to delay any longer.
With the latest automation technology, manual tasks will become a thing of the past allowing workers to concentrate on meeting and exceeding customer expectations. With demanding customers who expect real-time insight into product availability and rapid order fulfillment, warehouses need technology that can pull information sources from all areas of the operation and answer questions before customers ask.
Here are the key benefits automation can deliver to your wholesale and distribution business today:
Make every customer a happy customer
Creating a lean, automated office primarily improves customer service, which can help in both business expansion efforts and customer loyalty. Efficient and lean internal operations reduce the risk of customer irritation when details on an order are not realized as specified, or deliveries are late. Delivering on commitments made during the sales process is much easier with a well-designed system of workflows in place to ensure that nothing goes missing. The benefits of automation aren’t solely for customers alone. Streamlined collaboration with vital third parties like manufacturers also speed up the path from order to invoice.
Say goodbye to delayed projects
Blocked workflows hurt your bottom line. Imagine a project that’s budgeted for 100 days, but in reality, more than fifty of those will probably cover work in the office. Without clearly defined operational procedures, it can easily end up taking a lot longer with people wasting time looking for information and making poor decisions when they can’t find it. Leaving this situation unaddressed can easily wipe out the benefits of an expertly executed lean warehouse. These delays will take a toll on your customers' satisfaction.
Uncover shop floor issues that are hiding in the office
Warehouse floor issues can take refuge in the back office. Consider office logistics: time spent manually entering data and inventory without tangible added value to the end product is bad for business. This might not sound relevant for the office, but information is also a material. Unnecessarily complex approval processes where information goes back and forth – with waiting times in between – are a good example. Inventory concepts can also be applied to lists of tasks to be completed and clogged inboxes acting as stores of work waiting to be processed. Not managing these tasks and their information can be a real anchor on progress. Add the concepts of re-work (having to re-do invoices with the correct information) and inefficient resource allocation (effort without result, as seen in meetings without firm conclusions), and you’ll see that the administrative force of the business can probably lose some weight. Now imagine the effect on your business if inventory level information and order statuses were freed from the constraints of filed paperwork or emails to review and process.
The lean approach focuses on two core principles - eliminating “waste” that does not add value to the customer, and smoothing the workflow. Given that many aspects of administration add no intrinsic customer value (order entry, drawing up quotes, etc.) it follows that there’s much potential for improvement in back office processes. Without simple, repetitive processes in place to turn a suspect into a prospect and then a customer, as well as turn estimates into quotations and then into cash, people can easily be investing their effort in the wrong places. In addition, the focus on smoothing workflow should support consistent continuous application of effort uninfluenced by surges or lulls in demand.
Once you’ve pinpointed the processes and workflows that you want to automate, you can choose the right enterprise software applications for your business, and make your vision a reality. With the right technology in place, the possibilities for growth are endless.