If you had to make a list of all the concepts that supply chain managers absolutely hate, "waste" would undoubtedly be right at the top. Waste in the supply chain doesn't just cost organizations money in terms of inefficient resource allocation - it also creates the larger ripple effect of impacting everything from development to distribution to customer expectations (and experiences) and much, much more.
But as it has been true with most other industries over the last decade, the supply chain industry is in the throws of a digital transformation. Companies are increasingly turning to new and innovative technologies to help address issues like waste and other pain points head on. There are a few key technologies in particular that are poised to disrupt the supply chain industry forever. Here are our top picks:
Eliminating Waste Through AI Automation
Perhaps the most prominent example of technology that is helping supply chain managers reduce waste takes the form of AI, or artificial intelligence. As a concept, AI essentially allows computers to complete complicated (but often menial) tasks without human intervention - meaning that supply chain managers can put computers to work on administrative duties while human employees re-focus their time on the jobs that actually require people to do them.
In terms of eliminating waste, this is beneficial for a variety of different reasons. First, AI has the ability to both learn and adapt - meaning that thanks to concepts like machine learning, AI automation actually gets more effective as time goes on. This can improve everything from accurately identifying stock levels to proper order fulfillment, streamlining processes, and allowing supply chains to operate in smarter, more cost effective ways as a result.
AI automation is also incredibly valuable in terms of logistics automation. Even something as simple as driverless vehicles (which Tesla has already revealed that they're working on) can reduce human labor costs, can move products along the supply chain faster, and thus reduce lead times as well.
As far as when you should start investing in AI automation, the answer is "immediately." The benefits are far too great to ignore and this really is the direction that most industries are headed in anyway, so now would be an excellent time to start preparing yourself for the coming revolution.
Drone Technology: The Future Is Here
Along the same lines we have drones, which are essentially a version of the unmanned aerial vehicles that the United States military has been using for many years. Drones can also help eliminate waste across the supply chain using many of the same concepts as AI automation, albeit in slightly different ways.
Some providers are already using drones to help complete tasks that are not necessarily technically challenging but still very important, like tracking warehouse inventories across huge spaces. Better visibility into your inventory almost always equates to a better allocation of resources, improving both efficiency and cost effectiveness in one fell swoop.
But drones can help with other tasks, too - like managing the security of a warehouse or other large environments. Human security personnel would be able to do more with less, maintaining visibility into an environment and preventing issues like theft (both external and internal) as well.
There will come a day where drones are even used as a type of "last mile delivery service" for getting goods to consumers, but we're not quite there yet. Drones are absolutely a technology to watch, however, and it's hard to imagine that this type of tech won't be used up and down the supply chain in the not-too-distant future.
Project Management Software for the 21st Century
Finally we arrive at project management software, which is another way that supply chain managers across the globe are using. It's no secret that supply chains are growing more complex all the time, particularly as the economy inches ever closer to a fully global one. Managing this complexity is the key to both growth and profitability, which is something that the right project management software can do incredibly well.
Project management software can help key decision makers identify and keep track of all of the factors that lead to this complexity, like increased geographical reach to certain risks and security factors to regulatory and compliance elements and more. Project management software is hugely invaluable in terms of not only keeping track of the many moving parts that make up your supply chain, but also for empowering communication and collaboration between vendors, generating superior visibility at all times, allowing providers to make better use of agile best practices and so much more.
This is another one of those areas where the time to invest is now. Supply chains are only going to grow more complex as time goes on and your best chance at coming out of this disruption unscathed rests in the solutions you use and, most importantly, how you use them.
About Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson is AFFLINK'S Vice President of Marketing and Communications. He has been with the organization since 2005 and provides strategic leadership for the entire supply chain team. In his free time, Michael enjoys working with the Wounded Warrior Project, fishing, and improving his cooking skills.