There are a few things that seem to be constant in my life: I’ve got my first cold of the Winter just a few days before I head off on holiday, and I'm writing this post at my kitchen table right up against deadline while, simultaneously, listening out for the doorbell for an urgent delivery (that I’ve been waiting on since the beginning of the week).
If you’ve had the misfortune to spend any face-to-face time with me over the last 18 months or so, you’ll know that, along with my long-suffering partner, I’ve been attempting to renovate a house. The house, like a sizable chunk of the housing stock in the United Kingdom (UK), was originally built without a bathroom—or, for that matter, an indoor toilet, central heating and electricity. That we now have all of those things, at varying stages through the 110 years this place has remained standing, has meant all of those modern conveniences have been retrofitted into a building that was never originally designed to hold them.
During 2015, we’re going to be hearing a great deal about "dynamic supply chains," the next phase of digital transformation beyond the "customer experience."
As we’re heading off for a long-awaited and frankly well-deserved holiday in a few days' time, it was thought best for the person who is housesitting for us to not have to take a shower crouched in the bath, because the person who was in charge of that part of the project–me–hadn’t gotten around to fitting a shower screen just yet. Such an item being far too big to fit into our tiny car, I ordered it online from our local plumbers merchant, part of a national chain, for delivery to the house.
The ordering process was straightforward: I was able to see which local branches had said part in stock, indeed, how many sat there awaiting new homes. With that information, I paid for my order, somewhat impressed at the transaction. In the days since that brief moment of satisfaction, some of the shine has been scrubbed off the deal. Sure, I’ve been able to track the status of my order as "in warehouse," speak to a friendly member of their social media team via Twitter (it’s apparently "in warehouse") and also to another, separate member of staff via a "live chat," who confirmed to me that it is "in warehouse." All great, but it needs to be "in my house" instead (UPDATE: As I type, the status is now "direct ship," which I hope means it is on its way, not heading to the docks for a maritime holiday of its own).
Let’s recap: This supplier has been able to modernize its processes such that you are able to query its stock control systems to find the item you want and where it is (in my case, just over a mile away from where I type) via their website. They’ve added live chat to their website, so you can speak to member of staff for assistance. They’ve even invested in social media, so I can query my order through that modern convenience. None of these things are simple to achieve, especially when you’re retrofitting them to a large chain of warehouses, dotted up and down the country that have been in existence since the time our house was originally constructed. Yet, the entire process is futile if a single link–in this case, the fact that the local warehouse can’t put it on a van and drive it a mile to my house–fails. For all the investment the company has made on web and social technology, its digital supply chain has met an analogue element and snapped.
During 2015, we’re going to be hearing a great deal about "dynamic supply chains," the next phase of digital transformation beyond the "customer experience"–not least from us at 451 Research. For as industries experiment in successfully building the standalone digital links, they are beginning to enable entire customer processes to be joined together end-to-end, from the stock on the shelf to the purchases on your doorstep, not forgetting all the employee-driven processes in between.
As we do this, we all need to be cognizant of the fact that every part of these processes needs to be resilient against failure, lest the entire effort be wasted. Up until now, the discussion around digital transformation has focused on the relatively easy elements of building new websites, mobile apps and all things social, but that's just the start of the job. Much of the work today is good and is indeed transformative, but as we start to knit together the entire dynamic supply chain, from manufacturing to delivery of a product or service, new challenges and opportunities will emerge, and many elements of the business chain will need to be rethought and restructured. Just as Amazon and eBay have given us a template for this first generation of electronic commerce, new faces will appear to turn this current approach on its head and deliver yet another, ever-more cohesive future customer experience.
Matt Mullen is a senior analyst of social business for 451 Research, where some of his primary areas of focus are digital marketing and social media technology. Follow him on Twitter @MattMullenUK.