Supply Chain Technology 2019 - Year in Review Part 2

2019’s over, but there’s plenty of technology to look back on over the course of the year to see what affects it had on supply chains.

The move by companies towards digitization grew more pronounced in 2019. As such, many of the technologies that digital transformation supports grew as well. Part 1 of this review covered several of them, including AI, automation, and IoT.

Christian Titze from Gartner explains,

As companies seek to exploit the benefits of greater levels of digitalization, new and innovative technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning, can potentially and significantly disrupt existing supply chain operating models

Nonetheless, there’s plenty more to cover. Supply chains looked to a number of other technologies to elevate the running of their operations last year.

This article by Morai Logistics underscores many of the most significant developments in supply chain technology in 2019.

Blockchain

Blockchain didn’t have a breakout year in terms of adoption by supply chains by any means. Rather, it was a yer of tentative interest. Blockchain remains a technology in need of maturing. As such, the limitations that plague it like difficulty in supporting scalability remain a problem for it. In spite of that, its many benefits still have companies watching it closely.

A Gartner article expounds on why blockchain grew in prominence in 2019, despite its limitations,

In theory, organizations should know all parties in their supply chain network (within the broader business ecosystem) and trust them — but this is far from today’s reality. Blockchain technologies, as an example, could be an answer to address this problem across three areas — counterfeiting, visibility/traceability and efficiency play.

Robots and Cobots

Robotics only saw an incremental increase or similar rates of adoption in supply chains in 2019. As highlighted in this Supply Chain Dive article,

About 32% of supply chain professionals say they are actively using robotics and automation … This number has gone relatively unchanged since 2016 when 35% of respondents said they were actively using robotics and automation, but anecdotal evidence and market value forecasts show warehouse robotics growing.

With that said, even though robots saw little change, cobots gained some attention. A trend that continued from previous years, as seen in the sharp increase in cobot production numbers. This was probably due to the fact that cobots, by virtue of being robots that collaborate rather than replace human workers, aren’t as disruptive to workplaces. Moreover, not quite as much is expected of them as they aren’t necessarily doing tasks in isolation.

Immersive Technology

Certainly, virtual, augmented and mixed reality are immersive technologies that have been around for quite some time. However, it was in 2019 where companies began to explore their use in their business operations. That includes their supply chains, where they can have considerable benefit in a number of areas, including manufacturing and logistics. One reason for this is because they can help with predictive maintenance, displaying all the relevant data on AR glasses.

Digital Twin

Digital twins are online visualization of an actual system, such as a supply chain. Thus they have proven to be fantastic at creating end-to-end visibility of supply chains. Which in turn enables supply chain managers to have a clear understanding of how their chain is functioning and quickly respond to any issues it might be plaguing it.

All Things Supply Chain’s post further covers why using digital twins gained the traction it did over the past year,

The computer-aided duplicate of things has evolved in many ways: Today, digital twins are not only used for real-time product monitoring, but also for opening up new business areas. Scenario testing and analysis can be used to assess future potential success. In manufacturing, for example, a digital twin can answer all the crucial questions: How much do I produce or am I able to produce? How much capacity do I have? Are my plans still realistic?

Supply Chain Technology 2019 - Year in Review Part 1

With 2019 almost at an end, and technology having been the focus of so much of it, it’s critical to look back at some of the supply chain technology that defined it.

More than ever before the supply chain has become characterized by technology. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, blockchain technology, and much more are all part of the technological advancements driving supply chains forward. 2019 saw all these innovations continue their ascent. And, while not all of these technologies have seen wide scale adoption just yet, it seems to be a matter of when rather than if.

An article by All Things Supply Chain further delves into this supply chain trend,

In the globalization era, the supply chain is more diverse than ever before. Every day new technical innovations offer the opportunity to reduce this complexity. Gartner vice president David Cearley describes this development as an “intelligent digital mesh” that “will be characterized by smart devices delivering increasingly insightful digital services everywhere”. These circumstances are transforming the supply chain from a technology-enabled procedure to a technology-centric one.

This article by Morai Logistics highlights some of the most prominent developments in supply chain technology in 2019.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Perhaps the most significant technology in the supply chain space, artificial intelligence had a big year in 2019. Being responsible for machine learning, several smart devices, and the driver of automation, AI is the linchpin to numerous critical innovations. What AI in 2019 showed is that it is entirely capable of taking on numerous human tasks and operations. Analyzing data, making models, predictions, and forecasting with it, route optimization, personalizing customer service are just a few things AI showed that it’s capable doing for companies over the previous year.

Analytics

If AI is the linchpin to a variety of technology, data is the life force for it. In turn, it’s through analytics that that life force can best be utilized and understood. Although analytics have been around for a while, they are growing more advanced. 2019 saw these advanced analytics grow a great deal more prominent.

A post by Gartner on the technology trends of 2019 explains,

Advanced analytics are increasingly being deployed in real time or near-real time in areas such as dynamic pricing, product quality testing and dynamic replenishment. The availability of supply chain data — such as Internet of Things (IoT) data, dynamic sales data and weather patterns — provides the ability to extrapolate the current environment to better understand future scenarios and make profitable recommendations.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The previously mentioned article by All Things Supply Chain addresses the impact IoT is set to have on supply chains,

 In the future, the number of networked devices will increase enormously, thus boosting efficiency and productivity in supply chain. Gartner estimates the number of networked devices will be 25 billion in 2021. In the future supply chain, for example, these could be smart sensors on manufacturing floors in order to efficiently manage planned and predictive maintenance work. These sensors could also be used to closely monitor and track stock and the entire inventory. Not only does this save a lot of manpower, but it also allows you to optimally plan your future production.

However, while 2019 didn’t quite reach those heights for IoT, it certainly further cemented its place in the supply chain. Adoption rates of IoT technology increased a great deal. As the year brought with it a greater focus on providing an end-to-end experience, companies began utilized IoT to help deliver that experience. And, as the above article displays, IoT adoption will only increase going forward.

Automation

Lastly, automation carried on expanding its presence in supply chain operations. Supply chains involve many tedious and repetitive tasks. Automation has allowed those tasks to be handled by machines like robots and drones. However, what 2019 showed is that automation doesn’t only mean a loss of human labour. It also means better human labour and supplemented human labour. Automation allowed workers to focus on more meaningful work in supply chains.. Not only that, but it also gave workers assistance with some of the more labour intensive tasks.

2020 Predictions - Supply Chain TechnologyAs 2020 fast approaches, it’s worthwhile looking ahead to where supply chains are set to go in the coming year, particularly with respect to the technology that bolsters them.

Companies successfully adopting the latest and greatest technology has really become central to supply chains performing well. As such, the past year has seen companies move towards digital transformation. This is because digitization is the main mechanism through which companies can integrate the technologies they need.

As a 2020 predictions report from IDC states,

Digital transformation is now the overriding priority for most manufacturers and retailers, with the adoption of digital technologies aimed to improving efficiency and effectiveness in the shorter term while providing the opportunity to either disrupt their market segment or be resilient to others that may try.

Having said that, most companies are now in some state of digital transformation. Thus, the question then becomes what technology will they look to to best optimize their supply chains? Rather than something wholly new, it’s likely that the next year will simply see supply chains embrace more of the same, just to different degrees.

This article by Morai Logistics highlights technological developments set to take place in the coming year.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Will Become Even More Prominent

With more and more data being gathered by supply chains, it’s becoming increasingly important to utilize that data precisely. This is where AI and machine learning algorithms will come into play. By having sufficient data, machine learning can distinguish the quality data from the junk. In turn, it can use that quality data for a number supply chain functions. Key among those functions being forecasting and planning. But they are just two amongst many.

A Finance Online post further explains the importance of AI and machine learning,

Artificial intelligence (AI) will also play an essential role in making supply chains more efficient. The technology can be used to automate procedures using algorithms based on data from previous processes. Automation makes supply chains more efficient by eliminating human errors. AI also can identify patterns in the supply chain, and companies can leverage this technology to predict purchasing demands and manage inventory. This takes the guesswork out of planning and procurement, eliminating the need for planners to do the same calculations over and over.

Blockchain Adoption and Belief Will Come Gradually

Blockchain technology has gained a great deal of attention in recent years. In the past year though, some of that attention has turned sour. A great deal of skepticism has arisen regarding a variety of its limitations. At the same time, the technology has finally made some strides.

TradeLens, in particular, has elevated itself into being the largest blockchain platform available for shippers. Nevertheless, it will take some time before blockchain is trusted and adopted en masse. Until then, as will be the case in 2020, the technology will experience slow and steady progress.

Robots Will Work With (Rather Than Replace) Human Workers

Robots are an emerging presence in supply chains. As a result of this, many workers in the space have grown concerned about the likelihood of robots replacing them. While some degree of displacement seems inevitable, much of the worry is overblown. 2020 will see humans working alongside robots in supply chains. And, in many ways, this will liberate human workers.

A recent Supply Chain Digital article expands on this,

Machine learning algorithms will handle boring, repetitive tasks like data hygiene and number crunching that planners with domain experience will use to make decisions. In our customer base, technology automation hasn’t replaced humans but elevated the roles of chronically overstrained planners, allowing them to focus on work that creates the most value.

Digital Transformation - Top 5 Supply Chain Benefits

Digital transformation has become a big buzzword lately, but it is nonetheless key to companies having well functioning supply chains going forward. 

There has been an almost overnight paradigm shift regarding attitudes towards digital transformation. It has gone from being a goal to achieve at some nebulous future date to something that is a matter of survival. Companies of all kinds have come to see the numerous potential benefits of digitizing their practices and are embracing it as a result. The same is true of supply chains. Perhaps even more so.

An article by McKinsey explains as much,

McKinsey research suggests that, on average, companies that aggressively digitize their supply chains can expect to boost annual growth of earnings before interest and taxes by 3.2 percent—the largest increase from digitizing any business area—and annual revenue growth by 2.3 percent.

This article by Morai Logistics covers the top 5 advantages supply chains that digitize their operations are set to experience.

Decision-Making

A critical component of a healthy supply chain is the framework in place that drives its decision-making. Through the technological advancement digital transformation brings with it, that framework evolves as well. Getting access to machine learning in particular means supply chain managers can have very accurate predictions at their disposal. Which in turn can help them be much more precise with their decision-making.

As the earlier mentioned McKinsey article outlines,

Machine-learning systems can provide supply-chain managers with recommendations for how to deal with particular situations, such as changing material planning and scheduling in response to new customer orders.

Automation

In turn, digital transformation also unlocks automation. Which is set to play an enormous role in boosting supply chain productivity and efficiency. It does this in several ways. This includes reducing manual errors, completing laborious tasks faster, and making data collection more reliable and accurate. Automation is central in making tedious, repetitive supply chain work faster and more accurate, while involving less waste.

Customer Experience

Moreover, digitization brings with it a significant improvement to the customer experience companies can give their clients. This is because it enables clients to have end-to-end engagement. They can track their orders throughout the shipment and delivery process. This gives customers the transparency that they’re after and the peace of mind that comes with it.

Integrated Processes

Additionally, supply chains have gotten larger and more complex over the years. This is in large part due to the opportunities and costs globalization has brought with it. As such, it’s more important than ever for the many parts that make up a supply chain not to be silo’d but rather be integrated into one system where they can all be followed. Digital transformation means being able to have a single data management platform where all the disparate parts of a supply chain can be kept track of. This also means less resources and time spent on keeping up that tracking.

Future Growth

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that digitization isn’t just some checkmark or objective to reach and move on from. It’s a mindset, culture, and infrastructure that allows for continued innovation and access to future technological advancements. It’s a foundation from which all future development can be built upon.

Slack addressed this in a post last year,

 New technologies will continue to shake up customer expectations and processes. A digital business builds resilience by replacing rigid structures and inflexible processes with a workplace culture and infrastructure that can respond and adapt to new demands.

The 7 Greatest Obstacles Supply Chains Face Today

As supply chains continue to get larger, they also continue to get more complex and complicated, leading to a number of challenges that they have to overcome.

Today’s supply chains are facing a whole host of new demands and hurdles. Supply chains are larger than ever. Not only that, they’re more sophisticated than ever before as well. While both of these things have a number of upsides, numerous obstacles arise as a result of them. Growth and progress come with difficulty, after all.

Blume Global highlights some of the ways modern supply chains have to evolve to the new demands placed upon them,

The modern supply chain must evolve to meet new demands and supply chain challenges, and supply chain managers need to plan ahead to keep everything flowing smoothly. A combination of consumer expectations, more routes to market, international complexities and other factors creates significant challenges throughout the supply chain network.

This article by Morai Logistics covers the 7 biggest challenges supply chains are currently facing.

Technology

With the rapid advancements in technology pertaining to supply chains, not integrating them is a considerable liability. Whether it be artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, or some other innovation, they are all critical to running an optimal supply chain. More broadly speaking, that’s why digital transformation is such a fundamental part of the modern day supply chain.

Cybersecurity

With that being said, taking your supply chain digital also brings about further risk. It opens up your operations to the threat of hacking and other cybersecurity vulnerabilities. These can slow down down, disrupt, or halt the running of a supply chain. Thus, it’s of the utmost importance that, when digitizing, companies also secure their new technologies. This includes vetting their partners and vendors.

Forecasting

Given the previously mentioned increased size and complexity of the modern day supply chain, forecasting is more important than ever. As such, companies have to be as precise as possible with their supplies to meet customer demands.

The Houston Chronicle explains,

Proper forecasting helps ensure you have enough supply on hand to satisfy demand. An overestimation of demand leads to bloated inventory and high costs. Underestimating demand means many valued customers won’t get the products they want.

Overseeing Inventory

Tying into forecasting, is the need for the management of inventory. In order to have the adequate amount of supplies on hand to satisfy demand, companies need to be able to closely track their inventory. With that being the case, having proper count, visibility, and quality assurance of inventory is critical in today’s market. In order to meet these requirements, companies need to invest in the proper inventory management software and technology.

Market Expansion

Companies looking to grow will have a harder time than ever in today’s market. A company that expands its supply chain to new regions has to contend with a variety of issues. This includes new policies, cultural impediments, governmental incentives and disincentives, political instability, weather, and more. Without covering all these bases, a company is destined for failure.

Customer Service

Due to the all technological advancements mentioned earlier, customers are more particular in their demands than ever before. They want their orders delivered faster, with greater care, and for less. And it’s up to companies to cater their supply chains to those demands. In turn, however, through the utilization of technology such demands are more feasible than ever too.

Globalization

Finally, in many ways, globalization’s central to many of the obstacles outlined here. The market’s gotten larger, more interconnected, and complex. With that comes uncertainty, confusion, and externalities that are hard to prepare or mitigate for. Thus, companies have to account for these factors when constructing their supply chain strategies.

Technology - 5 Technologies Changing Supply ChainsWith advances in technology influencing supply chains in a large variety of ways, it’s worth knowing just what those technologies are and how they are generating change. 

Business fields of all kinds are in the midst of a great transformation driven primarily by technology. As such, technological innovations are coming fast and heavy and companies are having to adapt to them at a rapid pace to keep up. It’s no different for supply chain companies. Technological advancements are reshaping the way supply chains operate. With that being the case, it’s critical that companies keep track of them in order to stay competitive.

A McKinsey article pointed this out, stating,

For all the effort that companies devote to improving the performance of their supply chains, relatively few have unlocked the full potential of digital technologies.

This week’s article by Morai Logistics pinpoints 5 technologies that are having a significant impact on supply chains today.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is perhaps the most talked about technological innovation in supply chains and elsewhere. And for good reason. It is having an impact on supply chains in a variety of ways already and that impact is set to grow. It can be used for forecasting internally and externally.

This means AI can track the state of inventory, the health of machinery, have the latest information about weather patterns or conditions, and much more. Moreover, in a time when data and the insights that can be gleaned from it are paramount, AI can analyze that data and provide precise recommendations based off it.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is soon to be responsible for over a trillion dollars in spending annually around the world. In turn, as devices that can connect to the internet grow more developed, the need for them by businesses will also grow. With that said, in the world of supply chains, IoT is making its presence felt. It can link operations, assist the effectiveness of automated processes, and make real-time tracking of products easier.

Thus, whether it be live security cameras or real-time trackers on merchandise, IoT has a lot to offer supply chains. Through IoT, supply chains have the potential to be more transparent and encourage stronger relationships between businesses and clients.

Blockchain

Blockchain technology, with each passing year, becomes more inextricably linked to supply chains. There are several reasons for this. For one, blockchain meets the strong demand for transparency in supply chains. By being able to follow the product on its journey through the supply chain and validate its movement each step of the way, blockchain ensures clarity to the process.

Additionally, blockchain also affords supply chains security, as it has no central authority, has immutable data, and allows for real-time tracking. Finally, blockchain also helps drive down costs since it gets rid of middlemen and speeds up product movement.

Cloud

Cloud-based supply chains are proving to have a number of advantages over traditional supply chains. Firstly, they make supply chains more efficient by making the most out of automation and data, reducing waste. Second of all, clouds allow for seamless scalability, avoiding the headache of antiquated operational expansions. In addition to that, scalability also means supply chains become more cost-effective as they grow. Since the expansions themselves no longer add costs.

5G

The incredible increase in internet speed 5G is set to bring with it will enhance supply chains considerably. Consequentially, all the previous technologies mentioned here are dependent to some degree or another on the internet. Furthermore, in many cases, such as with real-time tracking and visibility or data collection, faster internet means better performance. Thus, rather simply, 5G will be a big leap forward for supply chain companies, as it will allow them to achieve many of the outcomes they want faster and more effectively.