It began with weed.

Two leading research universities exchanged cannabis for cash via ARPANET in the early 1970s to complete the first ever e-commerce transaction, according to The Guardian. Since then, the space has evolved into what is perhaps the pinnacle of digital convenience. Today’s consumers expect two-hour delivery, a mobile commerce experience and total visibility into last-mile delivery.

Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Now and Uber have applied additional pressure by breathing life into the on-demand economy. In their wake, many retailers and shippers are just trying to keep their heads above water. Of course, that’s easier said than done when the primary competition is worth $750 billion and is led by one of this century’s most formidable entrepreneurial minds.

In a recent interview, nuDeliverIt Vice President Larry Cuddy confirmed what most of us know to be true – that supply chain optimization is the path to contending in an on-demand economy. But he then told us something fewer people talk about: What an optimized downstream operation actually looks like, and more importantly, how to create one that can persist, and even thrive, in the eye of Amazon’s storm.

Two-hour delivery is great, but customer satisfaction is necessary

According to Cuddy, competing with Amazon’s two-hour delivery model requires three baseline technology features:

  1. Integration: The tallest order for many organizations is creating what Cuddy calls a hub integrator, or an “any-to-any network” that aggregates data from multitudinous touch points and systems within the supply chain (legacy systems, web services, cloud, etc.).
  2. Analysis: Once that data is normalized, it can then undergo circumspect analysis to solve complex problems with incredible speed. This is where the insights are generated.
  3. Dashboards: As all of this occurs, stakeholders need to have what Cuddy calls control-tower dashboards that “filter any output information that the company would like to see.”

The data integration and analytics components facilitate unparalleled speed, which is huge for any business that hopes to compete with Amazon. But let’s not forget the end goal: customer satisfaction.

“You may have 99.99 percent delivery success and have executed perfectly,” Cuddy said. “But that .01 percent you’ve botched? The ramifications for that are huge.”

“Use control-tower dashboards to be transparent with customers and manage their expectations.”

This is really where mobile-enabled dashboards come into play. According to Cuddy, there are four stakeholders who require visibility into downstream operations in order to supply satisfaction: the customer, operations, the retailer or e-commerce site, and corporate senior management.

“Each one of those dashboards needs to be customizable to each one of the stakeholders,” Cuddy said. “If you don’t have a local, regional and national dashboard that’s able to collapse and expand, you’re not really in the game of visibility.”

For example, if a customer’s love seat has a shift in its delivery window, will the carrier know about it first so they can proactively notify the customer? If it’s raining during the new delivery window, will the shipper be able to do a pre-call to the customer to ask if they can leave it with the neighbor? With mobile control-tower dashboards for each stakeholder, the answer is yes.

Data-driven route optimization engines can drive the speed and efficiency needed for two-hour delivery windows, but that’s not enough. Businesses must also leverage control-tower dashboards enabled by mobile sharing to be transparent with customers, to manage their expectations and to then supply excellent service.

E-commerce delivery: Another example of ‘optimization’

The marriage of online and in-store customer experiences is another critical retail and commerce trend (as exemplified by Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods).

Cuddy provided the example of one of the largest do-it-yourself hardware chains, which now offers store-to-door delivery with the help of nuDeliverIt. It starts with him ordering two large, clear plastic totes online. Early the next morning, a driver is dispatched to a local franchise we’ll call “123.” The problem is that store 456 has the lids for the two totes. In other words, the driver needs to make multiple stops for one delivery. So the question is, how can you optimize that driver’s route so he or she can handle other pickups and deliveries en route to complete Cuddy’s order?

“That’s a complicated delivery network and we figured out how to do it,” Cuddy said. “We also figured out that while that driver is dropping off at my house, there’s also returns two-doors down from there, so we’ll send him over there to bring it back to store 90-10-11.”

This event-based last-mile network, which allows for pickup and delivery, is the heartbeat of what Cuddy calls e-commerce delivery.

“On the e-commerce delivery side, it’s really about mobility sharing,” Cuddy said. “It’s about how you’re able to pass that data really fast to the driver that’s in the field.”

That concept of passing information quickly applies across all of the aforementioned stakeholders in the supply chain. Is the customer getting real-time updates from the retailer? Do shippers have the data they need to conform to the delivery expectations of the consumer? Does upper management have a snapshot of regional and national operations? Perhaps most importantly, is all of this data accessible through an intuitive, easy-to-use mobile application?

After all, David beat Goliath with a sling. You may or may not have one of those, but you have something else that fits in your pocket: a smartphone. Start using it to compete with Amazon.