If your company relies on supply chain management for its daily operations, you know how impactful the supply chain can be on your bottom line. One hiccup in the flow of goods can cause a delay that compromises your entire network, and an inefficient line of transportation could slowly drain the profitability from your otherwise successful enterprise.
Fortunately, new technologies are starting to emerge to shape how we use and think about supply chain management. We’re getting devices that make the supply chain more transparent, software that makes it easier to manage, and UI that makes supply chain management accessible to people in virtually all stages of the process.
Since even small changes in supply chain management have the potential to add up to enormous savings, it’s worth the time to research and potentially invest in these new tech developments.
Technologies to Watch
These are just some of the new developments reshaping how we think about supply chain management:
- The internet of things (IoT). IoT technology has been slowly transforming supply chain management for the past few years. This technology utilizes small sensors, RFIDs, and other high-tech markers to make it easier to track packages and vehicles. It’s leading to greater transparency throughout the process, and in some cases, more automated workflows. But because IoT isn’t yet utilized as an end-to-end solution, there’s still plenty of room for it to grow.
- Predictive analytics. Companies have been investing in data collection and management, so they’re gaining access to more information on the supply chain than ever before. Predictive data analytics algorithms are making it possible to harness that data and use it to make intelligent predictions about the future needs of each node in the chain. In the near future, it may even be able to make intelligent recommendations for how to optimize operations for profitability.
- Autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles may still seem like a distant vision of the future, but the reality is, autonomous trucking technology is already here. Though currently limited in capacity, this technology is making it easier for human truck drivers to make runs efficiently and on time. As this tech gets more stable and predictable, it’s going to have an even bigger impact.
- Digital assistants and chatbots. Almost every new software platform that emerges now has its own digital assistant, or a chatbot that can guide users through helpful queries and tutorials. This makes supply chain management software much more approachable and easy to learn for supply chain managers (as well as other staff members involved in the process). These technologies cut down on errors, and decrease the time necessary to manage key processes.
- The blockchain. Though still in the infancy of its application for supply chain management, the blockchain holds great potential for revolutionizing the industry. Utilizing a distributed ledger could decentralize various elements of supply chains, including transactions of money, information, digital assets, and even physical goods. Unfortunately, the blockchain will require significant time and development before it can be easily applied to supply chains.
- Augmented reality (AR). Imagine being able to walk through a warehouse and instantly see which goods are being marked to ship, and which ones need to be stored; that’s the long-term vision of augmented reality (AR) for supply chain management. By using high-tech glasses or other wearable devices, workers could feasibly blur the line between their digital data management systems and their physical surroundings.
- Artificial intelligence (AI). At every stage in the process, and in combination with every other technology on this list is AI. Machine learning algorithms have the ability to automate even the most complicated functions of the supply chain, and may enhance performance at every level. As AI becomes more available and easier to apply to different functions, it’s going to have an even greater impact.
Setting the Stage for the Future
Technology is already changing the way we manage the supply chain, but our most promising tech—including AR, AI, and the blockchain—are still going to require years of development before they go mainstream. If you’re a supply chain manager, or are a decision maker in a company looking to optimize its own supply chain, stay tuned to the latest developments, and don’t be afraid to make upgrades with experimental tech if it means significant potential gains in productivity or efficiency. You can always roll them back if they don’t work out.