April 19, 2024

3 Essential IT Strategies for Improving Food Distribution Operations

Published By

Denise Castillo

For food distributors that want to scale their operations, IT no longer just sits in the background; it leads the charge in driving business forward.

This article explores three critical ways IT departments can improve their operations. We’ve met and connected with hundreds of IT departments. The common thread between all the successful teams, comes down to these three areas that enhance their systems, processes, and protocols to meet the challenges of today and anticipate those of tomorrow.

Selecting and Maintaining the Right Vendor

Finding the right technology partner is crucial, but it's not a simple comparison of technical specifications. It's about understanding the unique workflows of food distribution. The correct tech solution must align with every step of the business such as real-time inventory management and helping maintain the cold chain integrity. Additionally, it's critical for the entire tech stack to enhance product management capabilities to improve margins and reduce waste.

Maintenance extends beyond keeping systems running; it's about ensuring technology can adapt and evolve with your business. Proactive strategies, particularly routine data backups and systematic updates, are essential to keeping your operation seamless. Here’s some of our tips:

Our Advice:

  • Data Backups: Establish routine data backup plans that are minimally disruptive yet ensure quick recovery of crucial systems. Regularly test these recovery plans, ranging from quarterly to annually, to confirm they’re effective and reliable.
  • Access Control: Regularly monitor and adjust who has permission to access specific data and systems to protect sensitive information. Conduct semi-annual reviews of user roles to maintain stringent security standards.
  • Strategic Integration: Streamline the exchange of information between systems to bolster operations and ensure process reliability. Evaluate and test how system upgrades affect integrated workflows, aiming to cut costs and enhance efficiency.
  • Management Routines: Implement continuous monitoring of system operations to safeguard security and data integrity. Develop robust management practices to diminish the risks of cyber threats like ransomware, ultimately securing your company's operational stability.

Ensure your network management and access controls are strong

The network is the lifeline of the food warehouse. It connects every facet of the supply chain, helping make sure that data flows without interruption.

Here's how to tackle two pivotal aspects:

Managing Networks and your VPN

VPNs are essential to make sure that data travels throughout the business. But managing VPNs requires more than just setting up connections; it's about ensuring these pathways are not just secure, but reliable.

  • Regular VPN Check-Ups: Conduct systematic VPN audits and promptly update systems to close any security gaps. Regularly verify remote network access to ensure consistent connectivity.
  • Grow As You Go Network Solutions: Opt for network systems that can expand with your business, maintaining efficiency and security even as user traffic grows.
  • Ongoing User Security Training: Train all users thoroughly in security practices to fortify your network. Periodically reevaluate training effectiveness to integrate new staff and adapt to updated procedures.
  • Invest in the Right Tools: Just as forklifts are essential in a warehouse, your network infrastructure needs the right investments. Implement comprehensive security measures, like email and web filters, virus detection, app security, multi-factor authentication, mobile device management, and network monitoring tools, to safeguard your operations and minimize emergency fixes.

Addressing Infrastructure and business change challenges

There are many areas within a Food Distribution business that are impacted when business conditions change, Growth, Acquisitions, new products, new facilities, and changing personnel all contribute to the challenges of steady performance and the potential for continuous growth and improvement. Keeping the infrastructure performing properly and anticipating the impact of these challenges on business performance is the core responsibility of IT working hand in hand with company management. Some of the key components of that forward looking approach include:

  • Specialized Equipment: Selecting the right combination of equipment and software that will provide seamless growth and security.  This foundation includes; wiring/backbone plans, segmentation tools, understanding volumes through reporting, testing of equipment, environmental factors(freezers/coolers/heat), and the core network equipment that inter-operates seamlessly. Mobile computers, vehicle mounts, handheld devices, and IOT devices are part of the specialized equipment required to effectively grow and keep up with demand.
  • Network Analysis tools: Implement or rent technologies that will provide ongoing report cards of network performance, identifying the moments and equipment that drive the need for permanent or temporary change to enable the business requirement.
  • Redundant Systems: Build redundancy into your network, so if one path fails, another can take over without disrupting the workflow. Understanding the critical workflows and which systems can not fail is imperative.
  • Partner Selection: This is a critical step, Food Distributors primary responsibility is delivering reliably and safely to their customers, not necessarily some of the nuance associated with infrastructure challenges, an excellent partner can provide temporary expertise that is not required every day but can help overcome temporary challenges to the business performance.

Making Sure IT is a critical part of the Business Process

IT can not rely on monitoring disk and CPU usage and purchasing PC’s as a way of assisting the business.  Having a full understanding of business strategy, key tactical projects and business flow at a detailed level is critical.  Assisting the business with tools that enable the overall flow of the business rooted in the understanding of the desired business outcome is the only way to effectively operate an IT function at a food distributor.

In practice this means knowing where money is leaving the business unexpectedly and suggesting and implementing tools to stem this loss.  Today more than ever effective management of inventory is a way to assist the business in profitability. Including;

  • Reduction in inventory damages to product
  • Improving employee efficiency
  • More reliable deliveries
  • Effective use of space
  • Tracking product movement and management
  • Measuring all aspects of the supply chain

The right technology solution under the guidance of an informed/integrated IT department becomes a force multiplier, enhancing efficiency, reducing waste, and bolstering the bottom line. IT leaders equipped with a comprehensive view of the business are best positioned to drive innovation and guide their companies to operational excellence.

The Final Word

It is an exciting time for Information Technology departments in the food distribution business, the #1 area of investment expected by Food distributor as reported by IFDA is in the area of warehouse technology, changes necessitated by FSMA, supply chain challenges and the ever present cost impact make it an opportunity to demonstrate how effective IT management impacts the bottom line positively. Having a voice in critical decisions of direction, funding and reliability of business processes makes the IT role at a distributor more important than it has ever been.  Picking the right partner to assist in making some of that happen is critical.