Transforming Your Business Through A Digital Supply Chain Of One

Richard Howells

Part 4 of the “The Digital Supply Chain of One” series

A recent infographic published by IDC highlights the importance of digital transformation and the need for companies to enable a digital supply chain of one to stay competitive.

One finding from the infographic is quite striking: By 2019 “3rd Platform” technologies such as mobile, cloud, Big Data, and social will account for nearly 75% of IT spend – growing at twice the rate of the total market.

Much of the increase in IT spend will be attributed to “innovation accelerators” – a category that includes technologies such as analytics, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and robotics. Through 2020, innovation accelerators will grow at 17% CAGR.

Of course, given the competitive pressure to innovate, perhaps these numbers aren’t so surprising after all. Across industries, companies are launching profound digital transformation initiatives as they struggle against digitally savvy competitors who use new technologies to deliver better customer outcomes. Now, this drive to digitalize is showing up in the numbers.

Top drivers

But what exactly are these competitive pressures? One is customer demand for individualized products. Part of what it means to deliver better customer outcomes in the digital economy is to deliver exactly what customers want. In practice, this often means personalization – the ability to manufacture to the lot size of one. Personalization requires processes that are highly responsive to individual needs and desires. Audi, for example, has revamped the assembly line in favor of a modular assembly approach. This approach skirts the issue of assembly line downtime – like when only a few vehicles on the line need to get fitted with optional extras.

Another driver is increasingly complex products. In this world, few companies have neither the capabilities nor the business justifications to fill out the end-to-end value chain. This is why companies partner up – leading to expanding partner ecosystems. Auto manufacturers, to stick with an example, need to partner up with software companies to deliver the onboard tech that customers want today. And as things change, these manufacturers need flexible collaboration platforms to quickly bring in new partners as needed.

Companies are also looking to improve outcomes for customers after the sale. With IoT, for example, companies can track KPIs and monitor performance for the products they produce and sell. Cars, again, are a perfect use case. Take Tesla, for instance. The company continuously collects data on its cars (self-driving and otherwise), analyzes it for insight, and proactively pushes out improvements to the cars in its network. Ever hear companies talk about knowing what customers want before the customers know it themselves? This is what they’re talking about.

The digital innovation platform

To thrive in the digital economy, IDC believes that “product innovation, supply chain, and manufacturing must be connected through a digital innovation platform powered by key technologies such as cloud, analytics, IoT, machine learning, and blockchain.”

As discussed in a previous blog, companies can use such platforms to mix these technologies in creative ways. IoT sensor data can be transmitted and stored in the cloud. Machine learning can then be used to make processes smarter. Artificial intelligence can help automate processes – and blockchain can help ensure the processes remain traceable and secure.

Yet, there’s a long way to go. According to IDC, only nine percent of manufacturers use an innovation platform for extended collaboration, only nine percent have digitally transformed their supply chains, and a full 67% still consider themselves “Digital Explorers” or “Digital Players” – meaning they’re at the early stages of digital transformation.

Yes, you can get there from here

The good news is that companies can actually move forward. IDC recommends adopting cloud-based platforms and enhancing them with the intelligent technologies we’ve already discussed – such as AI, machine learning, and analytics. This can help accelerate product innovation, increase supply chain visibility, improve manufacturing, and drive revenue growth.

IDC also touts the advantages of a network of digital twins. A digital twin is a simply a live digital representation of a physical thing – say a forklift in one of your warehouses or a heating/cooling unit deployed at a customer site. A network of these digital twins can provide the insight needed to achieve a digital supply chain of one. It can also help you track performance, usage, and service demand for deployed units or sold items – allowing you to monetize connected products.

The bottom line is that the supply chain is now front and center for companies competing in the digital economy. With a digital supply chain of one supported by emerging technologies for greater visibility, predictability, and agility, your company can deliver the personalized products and experiences that customers value. Good luck out there.

Register to read the IDC Infobrief to understand how a digital supply chain to serve the segment of one can deliver customer centricity by enabling predictive business and smart automation for total supply chain visibility.


About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.