How 5 Distributor Technology Trends are Moving - Modern Distribution Management

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How 5 Distributor Technology Trends are Moving

Jeremy Centner examines a handful of key technology drivers and what we can expect to see from them in the rest of 2024 and beyond.
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Distributors should remain a little cautious as they emerge from a will-it or won’t-it year of economic uncertainty. But despite the sales drops for many public distributors at the end of the year, industry reports show that distributors remain optimistic about the rest of 2024.

That may be because they’ve learned to adapt to the changing conditions over the past few years and have recognized the need to invest in tools that enable the agility they’ll need going forward.

Here’s what we’re seeing this year when it comes to distributors and technology:

Distributors are breaking down data silos

Data silos happen when one department has a repository of data that can’t be accessed from other systems, such as your core ERP system. These silos lead to inconsistencies in data quality, redundant manual work, disorganized data and potentially costly errors. It can also hurt the customer experience.

These silos are standing in the way of many distributors’ strategic priorities this year. Many cloud-based modern ERP systems can drive visibility across departments, breaking down these silos to unlock valuable insights. That visibility provides:

  • A better omnichannel experience for your customers
  • Improved supply chain resiliency
  • Increased operational efficiency
  • Greater decision-making

Leaders are seeking greater financial visibility

Financial leaders deal with loads of data that affect the direction and future of their business. Financial dashboards centralize and help CFOs and other C-suite leaders make sense of data across the organization, allowing for a 360-degree real-time view of operations.

With this, leaders can make better decisions based on reliable and up-to-date data, including better forecasting, managing risk, tracking key metrics in real-time, and more efficiently reporting to and working with leaders across the organization to keep people on the same page. That means when the world shifts on a dime, the company can move with it; responsiveness will continue to be a must-have attribute for distributors in 2024.

Collaboration will give distributors a competitive edge

Better data visibility can also lead to greater collaboration and communication across the board. One of the key challenges distributors face has always been supplier communication — or the lack thereof. Implementing technology that enables easy and quick collaboration with vendors and customers can improve the customer experience.

For example, when a product is backordered or otherwise delayed, vendors can quickly alert distributors so that they, in turn, can update the customer or make other plans to fill that order. Because while not everything is in a distributor’s control, how they respond (and how quickly) to that bad news can mean the difference between a customer staying or a customer walking away.

Without this communication, distributors risk harming customer relationships and may even need to find a new supplier, which can be frustrating and costly.

AI will have a growing impact on distributor operations

Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming a part of the fabric of distribution. Even if distributors have not yet selected and implemented an AI tool directly, the technology is built or being built into many of the existing applications they already use, including many core ERP platforms. AI is expected to have a major impact on operations as its power becomes more accessible for distributors of all sizes.

Low-hanging fruit for AI in distribution include:

  • Automating workflows to release workers from the drudgery of day-to-day repetitive tasks
  • Supporting the sales function both in the field, in house and online by providing a more personalized customer experience
  • Identifying critical events, such as customers who are about to churn
  • Strategic pricing
  • Visual and voice search capabilities for customers
  • Insight into sales team performance for greater coaching opportunities
  • Better data analysis for better decision-making

Cybersecurity is front of mind

Cybersecurity threats are a major concern for businesses. With the rise of AI, cybersecurity has rightly moved front of mind for many distribution companies. Unfortunately, just half of companies with less than 50 employees have anyone dedicated to cybersecurity, according to a Corvus Insurance report.

This, despite the fact that 88% of small business owners believe their company is vulnerable to an attack, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Given that nearly half of attacks happen in companies with less than 1,000 employees, distributors must prioritize cybersecurity in 2024 – no matter their size. Companies also face risk due to potential vulnerabilities through their supply chain partners.

Bad actors will not stop searching for the best ways to exploit these vulnerabilities. Dental products distributor Henry Schein was hit hard in 2023 by a much-publicized cyberattack. A regular security audit of systems configurations and operational practices will keep distributors compliant with regulatory rules and secure from a costly and embarrassing data breach.

Distributors are saying goodbye to legacy systems

Updating old legacy technologies and moving forward with new cloud-based solutions can help distributors do more with existing resources to support business now and scale into the future. More distributors are evaluating their tech stacks to support not only internal operations but to improve the customer experience across channels, from their field sales reps to their burgeoning ecommerce platforms.

Every year, technology change speeds up, the supply chain becomes more complex and customers become more demanding. Distributors must invest in their digital ecosystems to stay ahead, or they’ll quickly fall behind.

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