The supply chain is the link that keeps global trade moving. It’s important in supply chain management to continually evolve to meet today’s challenges and take on tomorrow’s opportunities. Supply chain professionals and students must embrace the ever-changing nature of the industry — and have a forward-looking view of the possibilities and what the future holds.
There are three major developments in supply chain already underway that will continue to impact the industry.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
Data has now become an insurmountable “problem.” It’s not an issue in its own right; we simply have too much data from which to glean meaningful insights. Humans can’t be expected to analyze it accurately and in a timely manner to advise decisions. The first step is data mining, during which patterns are identified in large data sets. Then, ML not only makes decisions automatically based on the data patterns, but continually learns and improves its decision-making based on outcomes.
This is integral to the future of the supply chain because the manual time spent aggregating data from disparate systems gets in the way of attaining the agility required in today’s fast-paced global markets. An example relevant in a post-COVID-19 world is a pharmaceutical or medical device company that uses the technology for available-to-promise (ATP) metrics, according to a ZDNet article. The availability of ATP data has the potential to rise because of the end-to-end, real-time visibility of global supply and demand – and in a time-sensitive and critically industry.
While automation can span various use cases in supply chain and logistics, no example is better than autonomous robots. According to a report by Deloitte, autonomous robots are expected to see strong growth over the next five years. This is particularly true in supply chain operations with lower-value, potentially dangerous and high-risk tasks, which would free up humans to take on more strategic work. Examples of industries where automation is already being used include final assembly, warehousing and manufacturing.
These intelligent devices are becoming more capable by the day, with advancements that include haptic sensors (allowing robots to grasp fragile eggshells and heavy metal parts without changes to programming or components) and AI (enabling robots to be responsive with minimal human feedback, including detecting emotions through facial and audio recognition). The benefits of automation and autonomous robots in the supply chain include:
- Increased efficiency and productivity
- Reduced risk rates and errors
- Improved safety
- Frees up humans for more strategic tasks
- Improved fulfillment rates and delivery speed
- Enhanced customer satisfaction and revenue
The best way to understand how blockchain will impact the supply chain is to learn about a couple examples. Essentially, blockchain is an extensive system of recording and linking information. It’s currently being used in the supply chain to track the origins of food, such as meats and produce, to quickly identify contaminated products and initiate recalls. Another example is tracing back the origins of diamonds to ensure they were ethically mined. The detailed recordkeeping of data digitizes physical assets and provides more transparency and gives more control to supply chain participants.
According to another report by Deloitte, the benefits of blockchain in the supply chain include:
- increased traceability,
- reduced risk and losses,
- improved compliance,
- reduced administrative costs,
- and improved efficiency.
While the supply chain field requires ongoing consideration to maximize its efficiency, it also provides the opportunity to be the steady force behind global trade. Logistics is what allows companies — and countries – to participate in the global economy. To be part of something that keeps the world moving is powerful.