John Bruno is the vice president of product management at Boston-based Elastic Path, a company that provides enterprise commerce solutions. He was previously a senior analyst at Forrester, with a focus on e-commerce. He spoke to Aftermarket Business World about the Industry 4.0 and the future of manufacturing, and what that could mean for the supply chain.
How is the factory of the future or industry 4.0 model going to affect the supply chain?
Manufacturers care deeply about product, and they already have very complex routes to market, selling through indirect channels. The things they have control over are how well they produce their products, and the quality of those products.
They have been very early adopters of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), and they have integrated sensors into different kinds of connected devices.
That is transforming the value-add that channel partners bring to joint customers. If they can do things like monitor uptime of a particular product or something that requires routine maintenance, then having those sensors built into products gives them visibility into how the product is performing in field.
This stitches together what had been a very siloed approach to serving customers.
How will this affect suppliers and other vendors?
It is one thing to have the different sensors or devices in a factory or warehouse that look at things like inventory levels for replenishment. Its another thing to do something with it. Right now, a lot of companies struggle with that. They might have that signal, but the process to initiate that replenishment order is highly manual. That’s because e-commerce and ordering systems have been architected to require things like interfaces to trigger an interaction.
But that interaction can be entirely automated. You can use a data signal to trigger a commerce transaction. If you have an ordering mechanism that uses APIs to understand who the customer is and the different types of replenishment you might, it can be automated. Every customer has unique prices and unique sets of products. But if you know who customer the is, know what the preferred payment mechanism is, and know what the price is, you can automate a lot of those things and associate order across products, across the appropriate inventory level, and across the different payment mechanisms.
What should companies be doing to prepare?
I think first thing is making sure that the appropriate touchpoints or mechanism have been enabled so you are capturing appropriate data. May that is a smart shelf that understands what the inventory levels are supposed to be. You have to place business rules around that to initiate replenishment orders.
The most important piece, and this is where many companies are lagging behind, is how do you enable the transaction? B2B systems ha been build with a traditional B2C storefront in mind, so companies need to think holistically about the channels and touchpoints they want to enable ordering or replenishment from. You have to map out what touchpoints you are talking about and have a flexible platform to handle all of those variations. You have to be able to support a world where transactions don’t just happen over the web.