The latest developments in data management and evolving hardware technology ensure route service representatives keep their customers’ shelves as full as possible. 

As data management charges ahead at the speed of light, many distribution systems are still saddled by an historical lack of investment that prevents their lumbering operations from running like a well-oiled machine.

“Truly the biggest challenge we face is the move from a way of doing business that’s been in place for years to moving toward something completely new,” noted Marc Braun, president, Pcdata. “Overcoming years of a ‘this is the way we’ve done it’ mentality typically is the biggest hurdle.”

Constant changes in the business environment complicate matters as bakers move from traditional direct-store-delivery (D.S.D.) operations to an evolving hybrid distribution model involving frozen, fresh, long shelf-life items and a variety of customer-direct warehouse programs.

In recent years, the gap between information technology that drives a business and outdated distribution systems has grown larger. However, despite that great and growing divide, it is not insurmountable. In fact, many of today’s platforms easily bridge that gap between RSRs and real-time data management. As a result, shifting from D.S.D. to warehouse — or operating a hybrid of the two — sometimes just requires an integrated inquiry that orchestrates a synchronized solution between the old and new without too much time and labor.

Upgrading distribution centers with the latest in data management software improves a bakery’s overall performance, including quality and freshness of its baked goods.

“At its essence, the question becomes: What technologies and processes have been put in place to help with the transition?” said Bob Saucedo, director of sales and marketing, Harvest Food Solutions. “We’ve developed a sophisticated strategy enabled by what we call Harvest Exchange that provides integration with legacy systems, an advanced transition engine that translates and deposits the data elements needed by each of the connected systems and, ultimately, allows a bakery to run parallel systems during the transition.”

Harvest recently partnered with Honeywell and other providers to leverage the stability of a legacy Fortune 75 company to develop thenext generation technologythat is scalable and adaptable. The company’s interconnected services include HarvestDSD for route delivery; HarvestERP for costing, manufacturing and warehousing; and HarvestBI that provides business intelligence capabilities for harnessing data from every business user as well as gathering from legacy data sources.

Eric Vandenberg, director of product marketing, Harvest Food Solutions, suggested using a combination of internal and external systems that creates the flexibility to operate on multiple formats.

“You need to ensure you have an exchange tool that will seamlessly and consistently pass your data between each system,” he observed. “Harvest Exchange provides the key for you to bridge this gap.”

Pcdata offers systems specifically developed to collate orders, track production and expedite fulfillment through a bakery’s supply chain. For D.S.D., its production count system monitors what is produced then automatically tracks the products as they’re loaded into trucks through its dock manager application.

Regional bakers rely on real-time data and paperless systems to manage both DSD and geographically expanding warehouse delivery systems.

“Our put-to-light order fulfillment solution will work in both a D.S.D. and warehouse distribution scenario and, in fact, is implemented in a lot of bakeries with a mixed distribution model,” Mr. Braun said. “As a result, the transition from D.S.D. to warehouse distribution is really not a big deal within the flexibility of the software. It doesn’t matter if the checker is dispatching product to a store or to a warehouse; the standard operations remain the same.”

Moreover, he noted, the company’s Distrib EQT lets bakeries capture when orders are delivered and tracks their baskets, dollies and other materials.

MiT’s Mobile software can be configured to meet both D.S.D. and mobile proof of delivery between manufacturing and distribution centers to track inventory movement while having more visibility within the supply chain. It has developed a warehouse management system package designed to support and optimize warehouse or distribution center placement of raw materials and finished product, added Mark Maraj, vice-president of sales and marketing, MiT Systems.

“Ideally, you would want a vendor who has both capabilities to limit the number of software integrations, which can be inefficient and costly,” he said.

MiT devised a flexible system relying on emerging technology that, granted, many bakeries are just exploring.

“Cloud computing has made a significant impact in various aspects of the distribution supply chain efficiency including the reduction of capital expenditures, better resource allocation and ease of scalability,” Mr. Maraj said.

The good news is that this trend of cloud computing will continue, meaning it’s not too late for the baking industry to embrace this technology.

“Those legacy companies can still benefit from using modules designed to be stand-alone solutions to address different aspects of their businesses until they decide to fully transition to the cloud,” Mr. Maraj said. “MiT has developed our entire solution suite with this approach to offer companies a migration path to the latest technology at their pace.”

Mr. Beam suggested the cloud also opened doors that were unavailable to smaller bakers a decade ago.

“In many ways, it leveled the playing field in local markets,” he said. “This will continue to evolve over the next decade as technologies become more available, creating more opportunities and further innovation.”

For Jonathan Dolp, Harvest’s founder, a core objective of the company enables bakers to invest in creating quality products and serving their customers.

“We want to help them focus on their businesses, not necessarily the technology side of it,” he said. “Instead of spending energy on technology, it allows them to focus on those things that drive revenue and not necessarily the IT department.”

Click here to sign up for a free webinar covering the major changes happening in today’s D.S.D. environment.