Originated with the military as a way to supply troops with weapons and other goods needed for combat, logistics later evolved into a business concept. This was mainly prompted by the growing demands and complexity of the supply chain process, including transportation of large quantities of goods to distant locations, in line with the globalization of trade. The logistics and supply chain aspect is vital for any business in terms of supply of quality raw materials, efficient manufacturing process, as well as tracking, transport and storage of the finished goods. Companies implementing well-designed supply chain practices are able to meet consumer needs in a more expeditious and timely manner. This strengthens customer relationships and loyalty, translating into revenue boost and acquisition of new customers through positive word of mouth.
Many of the key supply chain trends in 2019 will be continuations from years prior. However, the details, progress, and intensity will differ greatly. AI, IoT, advanced analytics and blockchain are some of the trends driving competitive advantage for supply chains.
Data-Driven Decision-Making Fuelled by Real-Time Insights
Along with these trends, data-driven solutions have exploded, and real-time insights are all but essential for modern logistics companies. Fuelled by asset tracking and sophisticated data analytics tools, today’s logistics companies are using real-time data to drive smarter decision-making and innovation that disrupts industries. But these innovations don’t always come easily. Netflix, for instance, made a bold move in 2013 to disrupt the movie-rental industry, offering the option to stream videos on-demand, cutting out the logistics aspect of mail-order rentals entirely. The idea was controversial among its stakeholders, and its stock plummeted following the announcement. But it played an important role in the company’s evolution, motivating employees to embrace the digital transformation necessary to survive and thrive in the modern era.
Advanced analytics enable companies to proactively take advantage of future opportunities and mitigate future adverse events. Prescriptive analytics can improve decision making in functional areas like supply chain planning, sourcing, and logistics and transportation, and can be deployed to improve end-to-end supply chain performance. Processes that previously relied on human judgment can be powered with predictive and prescriptive analytics that could have a significant impact on future demands for supply chain talent. At Sea – the Uberisation of oil transportation: OSV Finder is a French company currently providing a service to match energy companies with owners of offshore support vessels, but with big plans to expand into an “Uber” for oil and gas shipping. The concept is simple: vessel owners and oil shippers register on the app. Vessel owners post their available capacities and shippers post their needs. The app will then search for the most efficient solutions and enable transactions to be brokered—without the broker.
AI carries great potential to revolutionize supply chain processes. The ability to apply AI to enhance, and even automate, decision making, reinvent business models and ecosystems, and remake the customer experience could make many other emerging technology trends redundant. However, although current AI solutions can find patterns and predict future scenarios, they still lack decision-making abilities. Combining pattern capabilities with more advanced prescriptive capabilities will therefore be critical to widespread supply chain uptake, enabling users to dedicate their skills to higher-order use cases such as strategic network design or capacity planning.
Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) allows supply chain leaders to cut costs, eliminate keying errors, speed up processes and link applications. For example, an organization may want to work with structured data to automate an existing manual task or process with minimal process re-engineering or to avoid major system integration projects or specific new major application deployments.
Certain highly decentralized supply chain management functions such as smart contracts or traceability and authentication are prime candidates for blockchain. Multiple business use cases are yet to be proven, but some early pilot projects have emerged that are experimenting with the potential of blockchain for supply chain. For example, blockchain is being used to track the movement of diamonds from mining to retail stores by developing a digital record that includes the unique attributes, including colour, carat and certificate number that can be inscribed by laser into the stone.
Autonomous Goods Vehicles
The trend in autonomous goods transportation hasn’t moved as quickly as warehouse automation this year, but that’s probably understandable given the very different environment involved (public highways). However, Volvo recently unveiled a new prototype autonomous truck in Beijing, China, and in the United States, a company called Embark Trucks is testing driverless technology while hauling refrigerators on a 650-mile route along low-volume highways between Texas and California. It does seem then, that the trend quietly continues, although as Volvo Group CEO, Martin Lundstedt himself stated while commenting on the Chinese tests, the technology is probably still a long way from becoming a serious operational reality.