No retail season is more time-sensitive than December, especially the closer we get to the actual holidays. It’s survival-of-the-fittest time with high competition from Amazon, WalMart and other retail giants. Retailers need to offer the right products at the right price – and increasingly – with quick delivery.

It’s that last part that has become a key differentiator. And that’s where the supply chain comes in. Normally this is where we’d fall asleep or skip to another blog. But it’s the underlying infrastructure and delivery process – the supply chain — that has emerged as the best opportunity for retailers to offer the best delivery and edge out their competition.

Control tower solutions have emerged as the leading technology to manage and optimize the supply chain. It’s a poorly named category, admittedly, since many envision a physical tower. This is actually a software solution that provides the visibility retailers need to make good decisions and increase their sales. It allows retailers to see in real-time where products are within the supply chain. From manufacturer to distributor to stores or fulfillment centers.

Control tower solutions integrate streams of data for all these parties and integrate advanced analytics for predictive capabilities to make better decisions. It allows a retailer to understand that items are en route and on track to reach the fulfillment center for overnight shipping. Or if items will not make a deadline, it allows the retailer to offer other incentives to keep the deal.

If the supply chain is the central nervous system of retail, the control tower is the brain managing it all. It is emerging as a critical technology for retail survival. In fact, we stated last year that retailers that do not embrace control tower solutions will be put out of business by Amazon within five years. We stand by our prediction – retailers have at most four years left. Maybe less.

And we’ve taken a closer look at control tower solutions available today in our latest Value Matrix. We are seeing tighter integration of analytics and better overall visibility across the entire supply chain for dynamic decision making. The leaders from last year’s matrix — E2open, JDA, One Network and Pearl Chain – continue to advance their offerings, while Elementum, Kinaxis and Llamasoft joined them with leading solutions that delivered great value. You can see the Value Matrix at http://nucleusr.wpengine.com/research/single/control-tower-value-matrix-2016/

The holiday season is upon us. We’re already seeing statistics and predictions of shopping trends in the news. But the real battle is between the retailers and increasingly who can deliver the right product for the right price — at the right time. Control towers are the strategic weapon to win that war.