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The perfect balance of automation and skilled engineers creates the path to distribution success

It has been well documented how the distribution sector has developed over recent years to the point that it is barely recognisable from what it was just a decade ago. Increasing adoption of automated systems and the continually expanding capabilities of the world wide web have brought about monumental changes in how distribution customers are served and how goods are ordered, delivered and supported. By Holger Ruban, CEO, Conrad

To keep up with a rapidly changing environment and remain ahead of competitors, the natural and absolutely essential requirement for distributors is to invest in the very latest technology and advanced equipment that simplifies the entire supply chain experience and makes it as efficient as possible for the customer.

As distribution companies implement the incredible benefits that 21st century technology delivers, they are also coming to realise that for their customers to receive the best possible service, through state-of-the-art warehousing equipment, a seamless process from packaging to delivery of any product within the shortest timeframe must be assured.

However, these advances are only half of the story and their effectiveness is highly dependent on the input of one vital element – human creativity and interaction.

Despite all the advances that have happened and will happen in the future, it is skilled staff with extremely high levels of experience in the distribution sector that will give companies the competitive edge that they seek. It is clear for forward-thinking distributors, investment in skilled human resources is essential to drive advances in key areas such as research and development (R&D), maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO) and education.

Separately, smart systems and staff with expertise can bring major benefits to any organisation involved in the distribution sector but when they are combined they enable market players to claim a level of differentiation and even uniqueness that sets them apart from their competitors.

Conrad Electronic invested about €100 million in the past three years in equipment and technology, and in skilled staff with vast depths of experience. Conrad invested €56m alone into the expansion of its own logistic centre. This also included the latest product pick-up shuttle technology. The company, for the benefit of its customers, went from being able to quickly and reliably ship 40,000 quality-checked parcels a day to shipping up to 100,000 parcels a day.

At the same time, an extensive number of new products were added, some of which have been developed in the in-house Conrad Technologie Centrum (CTC) and are available exclusively at Conrad. Consequently, the company today offers a wide product range, bringing the company’s total portfolio to 750,000 products. The focus areas for the product extensions were components, test & measurement and automation, and also a desire to serve the growing market that is based around the Internet of Things (IoT) and need for development kits.

Because the company is committed to being a viable single source through a wide and deep product range, diversity and availability, Conrad also invested in a new state-of-the-art IT centre and high-grade systems. It handles all data that manages in-house operations as well as each stage of the supply chain. This also includes the ongoing improvement of the features and algorithms for individualised offers on the Conrad website and eProcurement platforms, which allows customers to order easy, fast and reliably products from Conrad and makes sure that every aspect of the customer’s transactional experience runs as smoothly as possible.

Likewise, access to intelligent buying systems such as Conrad’s Smart Procure saves customers time and money while accessing electronic catalogues 24 hours a day, giving them levels of flexibility, independence and easing procurement processes that were simply not previously possible. Conrad eProcurement solutions offer customers an intelligent buying system that delivers genuinely customised solutions to individual users, reflecting the different needs of buyers, developers or MRO specialists.

While it’s clear that all this investment in equipment and systems is undoubtedly essential, Conrad is equally committed to ensuring there is an ideal combination of human and automated touch points at all stages of a customer’s purchasing journey, with specialists providing the kind of high level of expertise that puts customers at ease.

No purchasing, procurement and distribution process would be able to function without skilled and experienced engineers, which is why Conrad has also invested heavily in engineers and customer-specific know-how in all areas of the business; whether they are office-based or field-based and speak the local languages to answer customer queries personally. The expansion of Conrad’s customer services and outbound FTE personnel, now increased to 100 staff members, has been of some importance to the company.  It can be seen clearly that having someone in front of the customer who is able to give direct reassurance, makes a huge difference to the whole end-user experience.

The distribution industry is going through a continual process of evolution in the 21st century but there is one thing that will never change – customers will always want the best quality of service that they find easy to interact with, that meets their needs and that leaves them with a good feeling at every point of contact. Technological advances are extremely important but so is human interaction. The winning combination is when a company is able to provide the best products and solutions on the market backed by the best customer service. Technology and people; hand in hand.

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