To compete in today’s distribution ballgame, Epicor Senior Manager of Product Marketing Tony Corley says companies need to be on their A-game.

“You need to be good at so many things: online presence, marketing, taking orders, processing orders and buying,” he says. “You need the best tools you can get your hands on and all those tools need to work together.”

Corley’s remarks are parroted by software solutions companies that cater to the distribution marketplace. “Customers want to manage their e-commerce presence, brick-and-mortar product in-stock positions, inventory assortments and shipping methodology in the same technology stack,” TrueCommerce Datalliance Director of Marketing Brian Lindner says. “Technology separates the companies that succeed and those that don’t. Compare a wholesaler that uses automated processes for order fulfillment to one that manually does it and I will guarantee the former has a higher rate of accuracy and lower costs. People buy from companies that quickly and reliably come through for them.”

NetSuite’s Kristin Swenson adds: “Simply put, wholesalers and distributors must embrace a digital strategy and a customer-first mindset and they must act now. To do so, wholesalers and distributors are turning to integrated business-management platforms that unify their business processes from procurement to supply chain to inventory and commerce to customer management and financial. Whether that means making the move to a platform like NetSuite or expanding their product footprint to include things such as warehouse management or a commerce platform, wholesalers and distributors are leaning on the right software and as a result find themselves better equipped to face the changes of today.”

Unilog CEO Suchit Bachalli is seeing a noticeable rise in demand for browser-based user interfaces that are device agnostic. Cloud-based solutions also are becoming more commonplace. “We’re at the point where system reliability, performance and redundancy are better when a company’s software is hosted within a top-tier cloud provider’s infrastructure,” he explains. “Most midmarket distributors want out of the computer hardware/server business. It’s too much to manage and the maintenance and replacement costs are too high.”

DDI System President Barbara Jagoe says replacing a business system is not just about getting a newer version of the same system. “Rather, investment in new technology can change the direction of your business,” she says. “Failure to upgrade means missing out on technology advances such as role-driven dashboard analytics, easy-to-adopt and affordable e-commerce and time-saving rebate and warranty tracking.”

Epicor’s Corley sees more and more distributors looking to a software platform to enhance business-intelligence capacity. “Distributors are looking for more access to data and tools to manage, analyze and present that date to employees so it’s actionable,” he says.

To that point, Corley adds artificial intelligence is the next step after business intelligence. “Instead of notifying someone when something happens or allowing them to dissect that data, with artificial intelligence you can notify them, indicate what they should do and maybe the ERP system can just do it on its own,” he says.

Unilog’s Bachalli has some simple advice to distribution companies who may be foot-dragging when it comes to being on the cutting-edge with software technology. “Learning to operate as a digital business is nonnegotiable nowadays,” he says. “But that does not mean eschewing your traditional physical sales channels. Instead, strategize on ways you can enhance those channels with a digital experience. To accomplish this you may need to recruit talent that was born ‘digital first,’ because it’s easier for them to conceptualize opportunities. Every year you procrastinate, the rest of the industry pushes further ahead, making it increasingly difficult to catch up to those who have embraced technology and wish to wield it against your business.”

NetSuite’s Swenson says a distributor should consider the cost of doing nothing when it comes to software enhancement. “Making do with antiquated or disconnected systems is doing more harm than good. Look past upfront costs and consider the long-term health of your organization.”