As digitization takes over supply chains globally, it’s creating a profound shift in how businesses operate: Just-in-time supply has become the norm, and the cost of supply chain operations continues to drop. At the same time, real-time data and analytics enable predictive modeling to eliminate product shortages and help businesses react to real-world conditions far more efficiently.
The revolution in supply chain management is far from over, though. In the coming years, expect to see an entirely new wave of technologies that will further reshape the way we manage supply chains. As that happens, though, businesses everywhere must prepare to integrate new technology and reorganize operations in ways they may not have anticipated. Here’s a look at some of the latest incoming disruptive supply chain technologies and how businesses will need to adapt to make room for them.
Autonomous vehicles in shipping
One thing all supply chains have in common is a reliance on shipping. It occurs at every level of the supply chain, from sourcing raw materials to feed production to delivering the finished product to the consumer. In recent decades, the explosion of e-commerce has put intense pressure on the global shipping industry. The crunch has forced some freight operators to raise fees or even turn away business for lack of capacity.
Fortunately, help is on the way. Autonomous vehicles may have gotten plenty of attention for their consumer applications, but they are also poised to forever change the freight industry. In fact, this is already happening: Since late last year, several autonomous vehicle developers have had functioning prototypes of autonomous freight carriers on the roads, including one that routinely delivers refrigerators from Texas to California (with supervision, of course). The technology will force businesses to consider investing in private autonomous freight fleets, which would change distribution methods worldwide.
Robotics in warehouse operations
Another part of the supply chain that is experiencing an influx of new technology is warehouse operations. SAP partner Fetch Robotics has been building a fleet of warehouse robotics options that integrate with human-staffed warehouse environments, and that’s just the beginning. Collaborative robots like Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer system are getting new AI upgrades to make them safer around humans, and they’re already in use in logistics operations for global shipper DHL.
As businesses integrate new robotics solutions into warehouses, they are certain to increase efficiency and lower costs. Robotics will also change the makeup of warehouse operations staff, eliminating low-level floor positions and placing a premium on maintenance and management staff. That means that businesses will need to either up-skill current employees or place greater emphasis on professional certifications in their recruiting efforts. The types of robotics and automation they integrate will determine the best certification for supply chain management required of their upper-level professional staff.
Blockchain in the supply chain
Of all of the technologies working their way into supply chain systems today, the blockchain holds the greatest potential for disruptive change. Modern supply chain systems rely on one very simple concept to achieve maximum effectiveness – fluidity. Making the most of supply chain resources requires the elimination of as many barriers between operational nodes as possible, and in the global economy, the choke points are often at international borders. Anything that can reduce time spent on international transit would benefit supply chain management, and it’s looking like blockchain may be the solution.
A comprehensive end-to-end blockchain tracking system would eliminate paperwork, speed the transfer of data across international lines, and reduce transit times for products of every type, all over the world. Shipping giant Maersk and IBM have already thrown their considerable weight behind a joint venture aimed at the creation of such a system, and it’s gaining traction. Overall, the blockchain will increase transparency and security and enhance the scalability of supply chain systems around the world. It also means, however, that businesses must grapple with the task of integrating these new blockchain systems into their existing supply chain management infrastructure.
These are just a few of the technologies on the verge of changing supply chain management. As with other disruptive technologies, the way global supply chain managers embrace and integrate the change will factor heavily into how painful its adoption will be. Overall, though, continuing innovation in this space promises to deliver unparalleled advantages for global businesses, dramatically cutting costs and boosting productivity. In a world that is more interconnected and interdependent than ever, this revolution can’t come too soon.
To learn more about the push for supply chain digitization, read Why It’s Time For Ruthless Digitization Of Procurement And Supply Chain.