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2017 Supply Chain Trends: Growth and Transformation

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As we start a new year, it is always important to understand the new trends, or dynamics that will shape your industry and organization. Your supply chain operations should be no different. 2017 will be a year of change and growth. Supply chain operations are growing rapidly and improving year over year. This industry has a lot of focus on it right now which in turn generates more ideas for improvement. It is an exciting time to be a part of supply chain operations with all of the changes and optimizations coming down the pipe. Below are a few trends to look out for – and hopefully, leverage.


Digital Transformation: The digital transformation is a broad term used for everything associated with larger parts of a technological process. This helps transform an organization’s strategy and enables innovation and creativity to enhance or support traditional methods (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_transformation). An example of this includes how B2B supply chain operations are becoming increasingly more like B2C supply chain operations, in that they are making the customer the center of their universe.

Big Data: Big data will be huge for supply chains. Imagine what your supply chain could achieve with mounds of metrics and analytics. Your supply chain will now be able to be more proactive rather than reactive. You will have data on weather, routes, drop offs, etc. You will be able to scale your operations and become as efficient as possible, saving costs and reducing your bottom line.

IoT: A lot of people confuse IoT and big data. The difference is that the IoT encompasses a wide range of items, while big data mainly discusses the idea of large sets of data – whether they are structured or unstructured. An example of the IoT would be smart objects like autonomous vehicles, Google glasses or smart thermostats. These IoT devices hold big data which can be mined and used to make forward-thinking decisions. For the supply chain, the IoT could mean anything from warehouse management tools to asset tracking tools. The supply chain will now have the “smart” tools to not only track their shipments, but customize how and what they track –geofence locations, increased delivery statuses in real time, more insight into shipments and routes.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math): With a new age of technology upon us, so comes our need for increased science, math and art education in the workforce. STEAM education is highly sought after in the supply chain (as well as many other areas of a company) because it provides its graduates with a problem-solving mind set. This is a necessary skill when dealing with complex technology and optimizations. Over the last few years, the industry has seen this shift in the workforce and is working harder to get those highly-desired skill sets implemented.

Workforce Dynamics: It is no secret that our workforce is retiring fast. As the baby boomer generation retires, the gaps in knowledge increase. This generation has decades of knowledge in their specific roles, but is that knowledge being shared and documented for the next generation? For many organizations, the answer is no.

Autonomous Vehicles: In 2016, the first autonomous truck was deployed. This truck traveled 120 miles through Colorado and delivered 50,000 Budweiser beers thanks to Otto, a San Francisco startup. With autonomous vehicles becoming more prevalent in the transportation industry – the opportunities are endless. With the trucking industry in desperate need for drivers, autonomous trucks can fill that void – not to mention how much safer this will make our roads. (source: https://www.wired.com/2016/10/ubers-self-driving-truck-makes-first-delivery-50000-beers/)

M2M: Machine-to-machine describes the relationship between devices (wired or wireless), specifically the communication between two devices (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_to_machine). An example would be a network transmitting information to a personal device. The opportunities are endless with M2M, including connecting the entire supply chain. This allows supply chain executives to know, in real time, what is happening within their supply chain – not just guessing or planning.
"M2M technology helps companies optimize supply chain flow by tying together devices and software integral to process flows within and between the links in the chain," Tim Lindner, manager, sales, marketing and administration for Sony Electronics' Professional Services Company, Park Ridge, N.J. (source: http://www.inboundlogistics.com/cms/article/m2m-101/)

3D Models: 3D models have been around for while now, but within some industries the infrastructure is older and the urgent need for change and technology is not as prevalent. With the digital transformation taking place right before our eyes, modeling is starting to become common practice even in the transportation industry. You can now model roadways, construction projects, etc. So, while 3D modeling might not be used directly within a supply chain, it will be indirectly effected by it in the transportation industry.