Navigate supply chain disruption with an inventory control tower

By | 5 minute read | June 23, 2020

The past few months have shown us that what was considered “good enough” inventory management is no longer sufficient. Even as businesses strive to reopen and emerge smarter, inventory remains uncertain because supply, demand and transportation capacity are in flux. The challenges that supply chain and fulfillment leaders lived with and worked around every day, are now amplified. For example:

  • Inventory data is scattered across siloed systems in and outside of the organization, so teams don’t have the information they need, when they need it.
  • Without tools to connect and correlate all inventory data and see the impact external events can have, it’s impossible to proactively address disruptions to inbound supply inventory, as well as reduce velocity of inventory turnover, amplifying the likelihood of losses from markdowns or leftover inventory.
  • Manual, error-prone processes, like phone calls and email chains with teams across your ecosystem aren’t efficient when you need to make the best, inventory-related decisions quickly. Valuable employees can spend unnecessary cycles tracking down available inventory when their time could be better spent closing the sale, managing a customer relationship or providing care to a sick patient.

To help you more effectively manage inventory and build supply chain resilience, we are announcing the IBM Sterling Inventory Control Tower, a purpose-built control tower that you can tailor to meet your business needs. It correlates inventory data across siloed systems to provide insights into supply-demand imbalances and stock shortages. With key technologies like AI and machine learning, it can provide you with insights into the impact of external events that might cause disruptions and find alternate sources.

See a single, near real-time view of inventory.

Inventory is often siloed and distributed across your supply chain ecosystem. It may be stored in different internal systems, held by channel partners, in transit, or already committed. Sterling Inventory Control Tower functions as an integrated layer on top of these silos, so you don’t have to spend time and money unifying information from different systems and keeping it up to date. A personalized dashboard gives you a near real-time picture of inventory wherever it resides, so you can say “yes” to more customers. The more inventory you allow your customers to see, the more you can sell.

With accurate, scalable inventory views, you can meet peak-period demand and avoid over promising, losing sales, disappointing customers or consuming valuable employee time. Embedded AI enables natural language search, so you can ask questions like “How many face masks do I have across my hospital storerooms?” or “How many days of supply of ground beef do I have in stores in the northwest?” and get answers quickly. You’re not just managing inventory, but maximizing ROI with the insights you need to make decisions that reduce safety stock and carrying costs, and increase inventory turns.

Connect the data to predict disruptions.

In most supply chains it’s common to discover disruptions that cause inventory shortages or excesses after they’ve happened, leaving you with little time to mitigate business impact. AI-assisted insights connects and correlates internal and external data faster, alerting you to potential trouble spots before they happen, so you can plan and manage exceptions.

With accurate, near real-time available-to-promise inventory data, you gain confidence in your ability to meet customer promises. Out-of-the-box connectors for various data sources let you see the bigger picture and better predict the future – for example, if traffic congestion or a weather event today will impact inventory availability five days from now.

Collaborate across teams and partners to improve outcomes.

Sometimes meeting customer expectations is not as simple as shifting inventory around – conversations have to happen, and trade-offs need to be made. Resolution rooms bring together all the right experts from across departments and trading partners to agree upon one version of the truth and use best practices from the past. AI brings clarity to help you better respond to unplanned events, and with embedded machine learning, best practices are refined and brought forward for everyone in the organization to use.

With insights and priorities informed by downstream impact, you can make better decisions based on financial outcomes with sensitivity to how it will affect the customer. For example, you can allocate face mask inventory based on customer type – a healthcare provider versus a retailer. When all relevant team members can see the same big picture to understand current inventory availability – what’s coming and when, what you can expedite and can’t – it’s easier to determine with confidence the best course of action and then take steps the solve problems.

Supply chain inventory control towers can be used by organizations across industries to get real-time insights to see, manage and more effectively act on inventory visibility to meet actual and forecasted demand. A few of my favorite examples:

  • A mid-sized healthcare provider is using an inventory control tower solution to provide a single view into supply and demand gaps. They can forecast depletion rates by SKU and stock location and predict consumable item usage based on scheduled procedures. They’ve enabled better collaboration across teams and partners to help respond to unplanned events. As a result, hospitals can save millions in wasted or expedited charges for replenishment. What’s more, by digitizing inventory management to reduce manual tasks, they’re able to free up healthcare workers’ time to focus on providing better patient care.
  • A national grocery chain is under pressure to provide shoppers what they need — where, when, and in the quantity they need – while achieving cost goals. This is especially challenging as more shoppers move toward online purchasing. Using the Inventory Control Tower, the grocery chain is able to get near real-time, SKU-level visibility into store inventory to ensure the availability of goods, prevent ‘holes’ on shelves, and keep walk-in customers satisfied.
  • An automotive manufacturer operates two repair centers and works closely with a network of authorized service providers. One of the manufacturer’s toughest challenges is to manage the demand for short-cycle order parts and resolve discrepancies between parts requests and parts availability. With accurate, near real-time inventory visibility into service parts by SKU and stocking locations across ERP and other systems, they’re able to help ensure critical parts are in stock to meet customer expectations.

IBM Sterling Inventory Control Tower allows you to say goodbye to “good enough” inventory visibility and start delivering on more customer promises.

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