Although it has roots in ancient seafaring trade routes and caravans, the supply chain is one of the most advanced and constantly evolving facets of business. Forced to contend with new challenges that appear alongside new innovations, the supply chain is anything but "business as usual." Supply chain strategy needs to not only contend with daily operational issues, but also needs to devote time and energy to anticipating bumps in the road in the weeks, months and even years ahead.
Some Concerns Can Be Eliminated
Inventory accuracy has always been a linchpin for planning within the supply chain. Without knowing which SKUs are on hand or which they're likely to need, supply chain managers can easily find themselves with a surplus or shortage that leads, respectively, to C-suite or customer dissatisfaction. While the tried-and-true barcode will likely always be a part of the stocking process, newer, automated solutions like RFID or optical scanners are all but removing the human error potential from receiving. On the warehouse floor itself, intriguing evolutions are appearing, such as AGVs, or "Automated Guided Vehicles"—essentially, smart forklifts that can travel to a stock location and pick without requiring a driver. According to Roger Bostelman of Material Handling and Logistics, AGVs may help prevent dangerous forklift incidents, 100,000 or more of which occur annually in the U.S. alone.
A Rich Store of Research
Finding data is no longer the problem within the supply chain; parsing it is. Whereas data sets once required painstaking piecing-together from manual records, the information available to a modern supply chain professional could fill a warehouse all by itself. Flowing automatically from WMS, logistics providers and vendor data, collecting these data points doesn't usually require anything more strenuous than setting up a digital receptacle. Distilling contextual clues and useful insights from that so-called "big data" provides, enthuses Louis Columbus of Forbes, an opportunity to refine future business decisions. With more data points to use, executives and supply chain leaders alike are able to determine if their current providers and vendors are truly working towards the same goals. This constant reconfiguring, in turn, compels logistics providers and material vendors to stay competitive with technology of their own, ultimately benefiting their clients.
The Internet of Things Is Huge
Even the sharpest predictions of business progress couldn't have imagined the interconnectivity driving the supply chain today. Supply chain strategy isn't formed on passive observations, it's derived from sophisticated information offered freely—browser cookies, wearables, GPS devices, social media volume—from both B2B and B2C sources. As more and more connections are made, even simple jumps of technology—using a Facebook identity as a login, wiring delivery trucks to post social media status updates on location—can revolutionize planning and minimize waste throughout the supply chain. The ever-present (and customer-expected) omni-channel sales approach hinges entirely on the supply chain's ability to deliver seamless service. Supply chains have had to shed their cross-platform transaction "wiggle room" and shored up their own seamless approaches to make omni-channel work behind the scenes.
More customers are using technology to browse, compare and order than not, which means that supply chains need to be on the other side of the screen, keeping pace. Professionals drawing up supply chain strategy must not only incorporate new technology, but use it proactively to gain ground on the competition. That means embracing new trends: packages that account for themselves in inventory systems, self-driving forklifts, real time cross-platform inventory display in omni-channel sales, or even transparent customer updates with truck locations. Growth of all types requires movement and risk, and nowhere is that more visible than in the sometimes-volatile (but often rewarding) relationship between technology and the supply chain.