This blog post was written in collaboration with SPS Commerce. SPS specializes in EDI services and software. Learn more about our partnership here.
It’s a unique time in history for businesses. Drones, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) — the future holds all kinds of exciting (and disruptive) technology in store. Whether your business is manufacturing, distribution, or retail, these emerging technologies have major ramifications for you. Everything from business processes to customer service is changing in this new modern market.
Don’t be left behind. Here are three technological developments to watch for and how they affect business.
1. Increased EDI adoption in a consumer-driven market.
Retail has shifted to a consumer-driven industry. Customers demand what they want, from specific locations, delivered to them in the most convenient way (next-day air, two-day ground, etc.) and for the cheapest price possible — otherwise, they’ll continue to look elsewhere until they find it.
This consumer-driven market isn’t just exclusive to B2C (business-to-consumer) retail — B2B distributors should expect this customer-centric mentality to become more predominant in today’s marketplace.
With more and more businesses adopting EDI solutions, there are sure to be interesting developments on the horizon for this standardized format for sending digital business documents. If businesses want to stay competitive, they’ll have to adopt technology that adds speed and efficiency, like EDI. There can be several disadvantages in delaying adopting EDI as a business, and more and more businesses are realizing this.
2. RFID making its way into retail.
If you thought barcoding your inventory was quite the process, just wait until you see what the future of tracking technology holds. The use of RFID in retail, while not necessarily a new development, may pick up speed in the near future.
What is RFID? Acronymed from radio-frequency identification, RFID technology uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track anything with an RFID tag attached to it. This means that there’s no need to locate the chip and scan it (like a barcode) — the tags can be automatically detected by scanners from several feet away.
According to Retail Systems Research, the use of RFID technology may become more and more commonplace as companies seek to implement more advanced tracking of inventory. The Radio Identification (RAIN) Alliance, which advocates for the use of RFID tech, estimates that by 2020, there will be nearly 20 billion devices in place which will read the 100 billion tags in use.
These tiny and easily tracked tags would eliminate many unknowns involved in transporting and tracking inventory. They could even provide for a “check-out-free” shopping experience where customers walk out of a store with tagged items and are automatically charged when the tag is scanned.
As far as keeping track of inventory in warehouses and distribution centers, RFID could cut down on inaccuracies and make cycle counting and inventory tracking a breeze.
3. Technology coming “alive” for the consumer — robotics, IoT, voice-based shopping and digital transformation in the warehouse.
Technology is getting smarter and smarter, which will impact everything from the way consumers shop to how distributors manage their warehouses.
For example, just this past holiday season, Walmart implemented two-foot tall robots with cameras to scan aisles and check stock, while identifying missing, misplaced, mislabeled, and mispriced items.
Amazon this year increased the number of robots working in the ecommerce giant’s warehouses.The robots, supervised by the human workers who previously fulfilled their monotonous duties, do things like grab bins off conveyor belts and stack them in neat columns on wooden pallets. The robots make warehouse work easier and mitigate the physical toll on humans, while also gaining the efficiency that Amazon needs to fulfill and deliver products to customers within a day or two.
Additionally, IoT is changing the way inventory is handled. Machines like Amazon’s Echo and Dot, “smart” appliances, and in some cases, homes themselves are gaining the ability to replenish household staples — sometimes without the need for a human to push a button. One can speculate that IoT for organizations in the supply chain can be implemented to similarly gain efficiency. Some retailers are already utilizing IoT technology.
Similarly, voice-based shopping through smart devices (like the Amazon Echo or Google Home) creates a need for extremely detailed and specific product descriptions and pages.
This kind of digital transformation will affect the warehouse, the retail chain, and the ecommerce store. Digital transformation, in general, will continue to be a hot topic in the months and years to come as businesses reorient themselves to make strategic adaptations of new technology.
Need to implement new tech?
While implementing packing robots for your warehouse might seem a bit far-fetched at the moment, there are several practical and feasible ways businesses are getting smart about the new tech landscape. As mentioned, businesses are integrating EDI in order to automate and streamline time-consuming tasks — resulting in better fulfillment for customers and more efficiency for staff. If you’re concerned about falling behind without EDI, learn more about some business headaches typically associated with a need to integrate an EDI solution in our blog “What is EDI and What Does It Do?”
Additionally, if you’re already using EDI, but maybe haven’t integrated certain key documents, check out “5 Must-Have EDI Documents to Integrate.” You can also check out the SPS Commerce EDI 101 page, as well as their inclusive list of EDI documents and transactions.
At the end of the day, businesses can’t afford to ignore technology on the horizon. The demands that new technology will create for more speed and efficiency will bleed into every market. And while you don’t have to dive in immediately to all these new developments, implementing things like automated workflows, EDI integrations, and better software will be game-changing as small and medium-sized businesses find their role in this new tech-saturated market.