Positive or negative impact on the supply chain resounds throughout the business. For example, in January 2018, Tobin Moore from Optoro pointed out a striking statistic at Retail’s Big Show: if a customer is happy with the way their return process was handled, they’re 71% more likely to become a repeat customer. And behind every smooth return process, is an effective supply chain -one that’s well connected and involves communication along the chain.
When the supply chain meets or exceeds the expectations of the customer, it’s because of efficiencies. The entire business benefits through higher order rates, a positive sentiment in the customer’s mind, and lower cost-to-serve for the business.
Accepting technology as the key to increased efficiency
Higher performance is measured in terms of the efficiency of all processes and people to move goods and services to market along the supply chain. But increased supply chain efficiency can often translate to increased pressure on the team. Their capabilities with costs and budgets are also often held flat or reduced, even when the expectation is for them to move the same or a greater volume of product at the same or a higher quality level.
With this in mind, there is no doubt that technology is critical to the health and competitiveness of the supply chain in order to overcome these challenges. Our recent State of Connected Planning study supported this, showing that 92% of businesses believe improved planning technology would provide better business outcomes. There is a growing awareness of the importance of effective planning throughout the business and the crucial role it plays in achieving business goals. Yet, traditional approaches to this have become redundant, unable to respond quickly enough to market demands. New technologies are needed to keep pace with modern business, connecting planning procedures across the business at speed.
Here are key technology trends that we expect to see dominate supply chain management in the coming years.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
The primary solutions used to drive supply chain planning today revolve around history-based forecasting: trying to analyse the past few weeks / months / years to predict what lies ahead. But the pace of modern business means that all too often this information is already irrelevant – rendering any assumptions or forecasts equally redundant.
The latest analytics and applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will change this forever. These technologies and predictive models will play a key role in the future of supply chain operations, transforming business processes – like demand sensing, shaping, and orchestration, as well as supply planning. Using real-time data these technologies give you the power to test numerous “what if ” scenarios – you can plan for the future using today’s insight and forecasting the impact of every possible outcome. For instance, a manufacturer could use predictive analytics to help map out the potential impacts of different Brexit outcomes on its supply chain. What if there’s no deal? What if my suppliers face delays crossing the border? How do I mitigate against rises in costs and make reductions across my supply chain? How will currency or market fluctuations impact me?
Using advanced analytics technology will help produce more accurate forecasts based on current internal and external risk factors. While conventional planning models are generally static, only changing as and when people realise a change needs to be made – which is often too late. But with advanced analytics, you can anticipate that need. By integrating advanced analytics into a platform, planners can dramatically reduce the decision making time – more quickly identifying potential disruptions and better forecasting their impact across the business. Planners can even use AI to correlate external data from sources like social media, weather forecasts and news to track and predict disruptions in real-time.
Advanced analytics also opens up new possibilities like enabling real-time dynamic pricing and better insights into new-product innovations based on current and future market trends. Those that plan effectively, using the latest technologies will realise previously unseen opportunities and steal a march on the competition.
Regulatory challenges and security risks
With the continued and increasing threat of high-profile cyber-attacks that can compromise the information of millions of consumers, companies will need to raise the standards of their privacy and protection protocols.
With a stronger regulatory framework – including the likes of GDPR – businesses have to take the management and reporting of their information more seriously. Businesses with outdated systems continue to struggle to comply with the everchanging regulations grappling with the scale of managing their data. And the supply chain is no different – particularly for those with operations spanning international borders. Supply chain planners will need sophisticated and secure modelling capabilities to plan for all potential scenarios.
Blockchain and beyond
Blockchain has already transformed the way trading partner networks collaborate. The technology will continue to remove banks from the picture, leverage cryptocurrency and distributed ledgers, and enable better collaboration. It will also play a role in making collaboration a bigger factor in supply chain planning and execution.
Track and trace (once a radio frequency identification (RFID)-focused movement) uses sensors and devices across assets and machines and will continue to be used in new ways. And thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), data will permeate the supply chain even deeper and be used to transform processes once it’s analysed and consumed by AI and ML.
A dynamic, connected future
Supply chain managers are always looking for new ways to take advantage of opportunities and to overcome obstacles as the modern supply chain evolves. With a connected supply chain planning approach, and the use of new and emerging technologies, data is brought together, and more people are integrated into decision-making processes. As the supply chain of the future comes into view, these trends will play a key role in its transformation.