Part 1: A Supply Chain Q&A with Maplewave's SVP of Global Business Development

In this blog, we’ve posed 3 questions about supply chain partners, building stronger supply chains, and omnichannel enablement to Brad Lapin, SVP of Global Business Development at Maplewave.

Brad is an experienced telecommunications and logistics visionary specializing in inventory optimization and bespoke solutions for telco. A strategic thinker, his entrepreneurial approach transforms businesses into major industry players. Brad was a founding member of MTN(MTEL) in 1994, established Bradian Logistics Solutions in 2000 which sold to Brightpoint in 2008, and headed up Brightpoint South Africa and later Ingram Micro South Africa before completing a management buyout in 2017.

Q1: What are the advantages of working with supply chain specialists and what should telcos look for when selecting a specialist to work with?

First and foremost, look for somebody with expertise and experience in your industry. There’s a big difference between what a Mobile Network Provider or a telco would require from its supply chain versus cold storage or a general merchandise distributor. Every company has nuances that are specific to their industry, this requires careful consideration.

For instance, telcos should look for supply chain solutions and partners with WMS (Warehouse Management Solutions) software or a 3PL (third-party logistics) provider that can add value and provide cost savings initiatives.

Telco specific WMS’s need to be able to track products on uniquely and non-uniquely serialized product levels, these solutions should be able to report on specific requirements relating to the tracking of IMEI/ICCID and manage reverse logistics on a product lifecycle specific level, such as OBF (Out of Box Failure) in/out of warranty, repair status, and more.

Often, 3PL companies with bespoke systems provide economies of scale, innovation, and expertise which are beneficial in reducing supply chain costs.

The management of inventory with regards to lifecycle is important because typically in the mobile space, today’s devices have a short lifespan. An iPhone, for instance, has a 6–9-month shelf life and after that, the next generation comes out. Therefore, inventory obsolescence and aging have a massive impact on working capital (note: that pre-owned and prior models still retain value however not the same as the acquired value of the device.)

The ability to report on a transactional level is also critical and needs to be executed on a serialized level. The uniqueness of serialization gives you all the information pertaining to the lifecycle of the product.

A 3PL provider should also be skilled in managing processes such as kitting/bundling of products and materials required to create new bespoke product offerings and must be able to ship products from a multi-channel perspective, for example, B2B requirements differ from B2C.

The point being - your supply chain solution needs to be agile and mature enough to handle everything.

Q2: If telcos are looking to build stronger supply chains, how can they do so and what do they require?

For telcos, I think it’s critical that – whether it be an in-house solution or a partner solution – they have a best of breed telco-specific WMS. Having a WMS allows for full rigor and flexibility when dealing with your product.

So again, we have serialization, are you dealing with serialized or non-serialized products? For example, mobile devices all have a unique IMEI number, where a non-serialized item like a phone cover has an EAN or product SKU type barcode. That said, some accessories, like speakers, wearables, and headsets, can have a unique serial number and can be truly costly, so these need to be managed on a product level through the supply chain to the various channels.

If you’re going to build a strong supply chain, you need to have the ability to switch from traditional supply chain methodology to a more consumer-orientated environment, especially with the impact of COVID-19.

COVID’s impact on the supply chain has been massive, every aspect has been affected from manufacturer to consumer. There’s been a significant change in consumer behavior. Consumers are looking for convenience, safety, and often they turn to e-commerce to meet those needs. This behavior has caused an explosion in the home delivery channel. Some consumers don’t want to go into a store filled with people, so they’re seeking their retail experience online, or through a booked appointment. As a result, we’re seeing demand skyrocket for solutions such as curbside pickup and direct delivery.

Through agile systems, telcos can show all the inventory that is available in the warehouse to the customer and have these goods delivered directly to them. Telcos need to look for software solutions or 3PL providers who understand the full cradle-to-grave supply chain ecosystem. Telcos must drive innovation of service offerings and products, ensure availability by understanding demand planning and replenishment cycles, integrate with carriers, and manage workflows. All of this speaks to customer satisfaction, customer engagement, and drives improved NPS (Net Promoter Score).

Additionally, the industry is moving towards paperless supply chain environments and non-contact type delivery solutions. Through barcoding, scanning, and serialization, telcos can hand over products to couriers with a simple barcode and the courier can receive it without any physical documentation. Then, throughout the delivery process, telcos can view the transactional data and flows, for example, the consignment status throughout the delivery cycle.

To take it a step further, for contactless deliveries (a requirement to mitigate the spread of COVID-19) there are solutions where customers obtain an OTP (one-time pin). This works by having the driver issue an OTP upon arrival from the vehicle to the customer thereby verifying the recipient, allowing the driver to then confirm the customer’s identity and deliver the consignment safely and securely.

Innovation is key and good supply chain solutions are constantly evolving and improving to the demands of the industry and the environment.

Q3: What role does the supply chain have in enabling an omnichannel strategy?

There are four primary elements, convenience, consistency, visibility, and time to market.

What you do in a retail store, you need to replicate online, in call centres, and on apps. Customers need to be able to purchase the products they want and have the convenience of choosing how products are delivered and when.

Visibility is important because there’s no point in having customers ordering products that aren’t available –  this is how telcos lose sales to competitors. You need inventory visibility and availability to promise and deliver on that promise.

Time to market is key when looking at a replenishment algorithm. In a retail store, it’s typically 2-3 days or sooner depending on location; for B2C, it must be no more than 24-48 hours maximum – customers want their purchases in hand as soon as possible.

Real omnichannel enablement is all about supporting various channels and providing convenience. Can you hold a large amount of inventory in-store? Maybe not, but that shouldn’t limit your ability to sell – leverage solutions such as endless aisle, home delivery, and curbside pick-up.

Watch out for Part 2 of this Q&A coming soon! In the meantime, connect with Brad on LinkedIn to hear more insights on all things supply chain.

Maplewave Company

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