MHD talks with Microlistics’ Archival Garcia about the challenges of e-commerce, and why agile and adaptive WMS solutions are indispensable for business success.
“Microlistics’ focus has always been what goes on within the four walls of the Distribution Centre,” says Archival Garcia, Vice President – Global Sales & Marketing at Microlistics. “But with the rise of e-commerce, we are constantly exploring solutions that extend beyond that space. Some of that is updating our own solutions and offerings, and some of it is forming strategic partnerships to keep our clients ahead of the game as various e-commerce trends develop.”
So, what are some of the key trends in e-commerce, and what must be done to stay in front?
EASIER INTEGRATIONS A MUST
Archival says that the rise of e-commerce necessitates increased omnichannel and online fulfilment, which itself means greater visibility is needed across the supply chain.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has seen lockdowns, traffic limitations, limits on people in stores and DCs, to speak nothing of those who service those stores and DCs,” says Archival. “This sped up a trend which was already occurring – more orders, more often, with more complexity, online– and I don’t think we’ll return to a pre-COVID state.”
This means that sellers must maximise their inventory deployment, he says, and achieve a new level of flexibility so that supply and demand are brought into balance. Archival says sellers are racing to keep up with new online demand – not only in terms of volume but in terms of more individual orders – and this puts an increased focus on warehouse management.
“Online is now the storefront, but what that means in reality is that consumers are actually accessing the warehouse directly,” he says. “The warehouse has become a lot more critical for e-commerce than the physical store, which in turn means we need to be more aware of the supply chain as a whole.”
Cultivating that awareness is a challenge which distributors and 3PLs are now facing, says Archival. “Knowing what’s in demand, knowing supply chain throughput, knowing where a product is coming from, how it’s coming to us, how long it will take us to process it – all this is more essential than ever. And that means integration of systems and knowledge. The ideal for WMS systems now is to be informed about all of the above and be able to act on that information as quickly as possible to service customers efficiently and effectively.”
AGILITY AND COMPLEXITY
There has been a simultaneous uptick in the diversity and specificity of consumer demand, says Archival, resulting in more complex inventory flows. “The onus right now is also to get the stuff out the door as fast as possible,” he says. “You can no longer wait for a full order; you have to send out smaller units as fast as possible.”
Increasing complexity, and the speed of that increase, means that WMS systems can’t wait and adjust all in one go, says Archival. Rather, Microlistics is focusing on delivering a platform that is flexible, agile, and can scale and iteratively adapt to changing circumstances.
He notes that Microlistics recently worked with a large retailer that had originally approached them with the goal of updating their legacy system for store replenishments. But before they knew it, COVID was upon them, and Microlistics had to help them adapt to e-commerce on the fly.
“They had hundreds of stores in the country and a lot of DCs, and suddenly had to adapt,” Archival says. “They tried initially to service it through their legacy WMS, but they couldn’t do it. So, we deployed a pre-templated solution for about 80 per cent of the problem and just kept on optimising it as we went along. It started small. First, they wanted only a section of the warehouse to accommodate online orders, but before long they were building an entirely new DC to meet the demand.”
He says that as the process unfolded, the retailer decided that Microlistics’ solutions were so capable that they would adopt the WMS across the supply chain – a massive undertaking.
“We’re dealing with store replenishment, online fulfilment, and push allocation. All the time there is new stuff coming in various quantities. Deploying a WMS on that scale would usually be an 8–12-month venture. But we couldn’t wait around, so we had to cut the process into little pieces and do it bit by bit.”
The approach worked, says Archival. Now, the newly built DC – and the WMS Microlistics tailored to it – will be used as the model DC to fulfil every channel the client has – a model which will be copied across all their sites.
FLEXIBLE WMS, FAST
Part of Microlistics’ advantage is that it can quickly deploy simple solutions for a complex world. Its core ‘Enterprise’ platform is constantly updated and optimised as it responds to client challenges and feedback and anticipates logistics trends. But alongside the core platform, it offers four templates configured for best practice: Express, 3PL, Chilled, and Retail.
“We are using the same platform, but we’ve made it easier to deploy, consume, and ‘flex up’ to meet changing demand,” Archival says. “When we get a new 3PL, for instance, we have a best practice 3PL template ready as a starting point. Then we can say to our clients: ‘This is the solution that evidence shows works the best. Now tell us how you’re unique and how we can optimise it for your needs.’”
A NEW RESPECT FOR SUPPLY CHAINS
One big plus that Archival thinks has come out of the pandemic is an increasing respect for supply chains and supply chain professionals among the executive ranks of business.
“Previously, they were a bit unloved, but COVID has really highlighted their importance,” he says.
“Microlistics’ goal is to help those supply chain decision makers by delivering our software in a way that clearly demonstrates business improvements and dollar value improvements,” Archival says. “This allows supply chain leaders to better make their business case to other leaders within their own company. Our mantra is always ‘The People First’, because although we know how much value our solutions provide, we also know how much value comes from our customers.”
For more information on Microlistics, click here.