The battle to win consumer spending in the grocery sector requires every tool in the arsenal to attract customers, improve service, and contain costs. This is especially true in today’s environment ­­as grocery stores must compete and stay ahead of major trends, such as health and wellness, sustainability, and transparency – e.g. knowing where our foods come from – to attract purchasing from savvy customers.

That is a major challenge as margins across the grocery industry continue to shrink. Thin margins force retailers to continuously look for ways to improve operational efficiencies and streamline operations that enhance service and reduce costs.

One area grocery retailers constantly look at making improvements in is with supply chain management. As many grocery retailers realize, staying connected in real-time with distributors, wholesalers, farmers, and other suppliers is critical for greater inventory management, tracking and reporting, and receiving updates on trends and insights to ensure the rights products are delivered and being stocked. This is where leveraging modern collaboration solutions, such as video, comes into play, as these technology platforms enable managers to connect with suppliers in real-time at the store-level to discuss critical updates that impact product deliveries.

Many companies today that have a vast network of suppliers to manage, similar to the grocery industry, utilize modern collaboration solutions to better streamline their operations and reduce costs. These quality platforms are not only a far more effective way to communicate across geographic borders in real-time, but also a more efficient way to receive critical updates that impact the supply chain.

One example is taking place at Flextronics International, Ltd., a large and internationally known supply chain solutions company that offers design, manufacturing, distribution, and aftermarket services to original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s). Like many big firms with a large supply chain to manage, being able to stay on top of unexpected events is a major challenge. All it takes is one natural disaster, extreme weather condition, or an unforeseen macro-environmental factor such as political unrest that can negatively impact the entire flow of the supply chain.

Because Flextronics has a huge global network of 14,000 suppliers, the chances of an unexpected event occurring in another supplier’s territory and impacting products being delivered on-time are much greater. This is why Flextronics spent two years building Flex Pulse, a custom interactive software and user interface to help reduce costs by mitigating and responding faster to potential supply chain risks.

Instead of centrally managing the supply chain from one ivory control tower as many companies do, Flex Pulse enables local managers to visually see information happening with other global suppliers in real-time at their facility. Factories are installed or are equipped with large interactive touch-screen displays, computers, tablets or mobile devices to receive supply chain data from other factories. Factory managers can simply use the installed Flex Pulse software to zero-in on potential problems at other supplier sites early on to determine the best course of action in re-directing work to keep the inventory flow moving.

For example, if an earthquake struck in Taiwan, employees at another factory can initiate a video call with the supplier in Taiwan from their screen to visually discuss critical updates, potential outcomes, and necessary recourse to prevent any bottlenecks or delays in the supply chain.

While Flex Pulse is a unique real-time collaboration software designed specifically for Flextronics, many companies with supply chains to manage don’t have two years to invest in such a tailor-made platform. The good news is that there are enterprise grade collaboration platforms available for companies, including grocery chains, to leverage that deliver the same level of transparency and agility without the extensive time and steep costs required to implement.

Take quality video conferencing as a real-time collaboration platform for instance. Manhattan Associates, a large supply chain consulting company needed a face-to-face collaboration platform to streamline their operations, reduce costs, and enhance the quality of interactions internally and externally with clients across the globe. This is what ultimately led the company to leverage an HD video conferencing platform as their real-time collaboration platform of choice.

With the HD video systems installed in facilities throughout the globe, Manhattan Associate’s employees can visually communicate and discuss real-time critical updates internally, and interact with clients on important progress made on supply chain efficiencies. Such quality interactions simply can’t be mimicked through non-HD platforms, or other collaboration channels that fail to capture non-verbal communication effectively –e.g. audio only conferencing, email, web chat or instant messaging.

“It’s night and day between HD and non-HD video, said John Drummond, Director of Global Communication Systems for Manhattan Associates. “I was on a two-hour video call with a colleague in Indiana and he looked like he was sitting in the next room, there was no jitter or latency like you used to see. His voice was clear, his movements were fluid.”

Manhattan Associate’s also invested in the solutions that make it simple and secure to enable quality connections with individuals outside of their organization such as clients and partners.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in meeting with external clients,” says Drummond. “For example, if there is a development need at a particular client, we can easily connect with the client over either IP or ISDN, which is extremely valuable because both sides are concerned about costs these days.”

And usage tracking can provide insights on whether the solution is helping the business.  “I can bring that ROI chart to the CFO to let him know how his investment is being used,” says Drummond.

Video collaboration platforms have come a long way in helping companies better streamline and improve operational efficiencies. With quality HD video collaboration solutions, grocery retailers now have a platform available that can improve supply chain efficiencies, mitigate the impact of unexpected events, reduce costs, and establish better communication across disparate regions with fellow suppliers.