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The Future of Supply Chain: The 4 Encompassing Trends Taking Center Stage

automated robotics in futuristic warehouse

With rapidly advancing technology, continued growth in e-commerce, and greater demand than ever, the future of supply chain management has never been more relevant than right now. To stay competitive in the industry and meet the new needs of modern production and commerce, companies and businesses are adjusting their strategies, upgrading their business processes and tools and expanding their resources to keep pace with significant trends in the supply chain.

1. Smoothing Supply Chain Through Technology

Possibly the most innovative element of the supply chain is the different ways that processes are being streamlined through technology. Digitization, cloud-based tech, the Internet of Things (IoT), automation systems and artificial intelligence (AI) systems are leading to increased visibility, real-time data, safer operations and cost savings. However, automating existing processes can lead to a sub-optimal solution. New processes should be designed with the new tools in mind to ensure alignment to gain synergies.

Digitization / Cloud-Based Tech

Physical copies of documentation and data are becoming more obsolete every year as information is being transferred into digital format. Digital data is far more convenient for companies, and it’s also more efficient, faster to access, easier to share and more mobile. As part of the digital revolution, cloud-based technology is also booming so that data can be shared both internally and externally without taking up massive amounts of storage on devices. Cloud-based software can handle transactions, verifications and other procedures that are accessible from anywhere in the world.

Staying up to date with digitized data, the cloud and portable devices is an essential part of the supply chain, which allows companies to keep track of shipments and inventory, accurately process payments, verify personnel, communicate frequently as needed and more. Without such abilities or access to the information needed, a business will eventually become significantly more inefficient compared to competitors that are already taking advantage of the digital world.

Automation + AI

Some of the more innovative technologies being used in supply chain settings are automation and artificial intelligence. Removing human beings from processes entirely isn’t necessarily the goal, but AI and automation do lessen the chance of human error, improve safety, speeds up decision-making and can also take on more laborious tasks.

Automation is a machine or software that performs a task to minimize human work and necessity. For example, warehouses use automated tools to process and confirm orders and essentially optimize the workflow. AI is more dynamic and focused on “learning” or mimicking human input, which can result in more accurate analyses, less human labor, and AI-driven predictions that help prevent low performance. AI can be found driving huge advances in capabilities in call centers, order management systems, demand forecasting and supply planning systems. Supply chain leaders need to seriously consider automation and AI solutions in order to keep up with production demands.

IoT

IoT describes devices that have sensors and other means of collecting data that share that data by connecting via the internet. IoT makes it possible to monitor other machines or devices, share data faster, aid in predictive maintenance, provide asset tracking and many other niche possibilities in the logistics, manufacturing and supply chain fields.

The more digital the procedures become, the more IoT will be utilized. This also calls for greater connectivity capabilities, such as premium networks with a lot of bandwidth and IoT applications that integrate smoothly. This means that not only should supply chain executives start implementing IoT in their businesses to streamline their processes, but they should also use it to prepare for an even more digital world that will develop for the supply chain of the future.

Benefits of Supply Chain Technology Advancements

These innovations are digitally transforming businesses to new capacities as their workload is being managed differently, with advantages like:

  • Greater visibility/real-time data: Having access to the right people and devices at almost any time in real-time is a huge advantage that allows every step of the supply chain to be carefully overseen and monitored. Large amounts of data quickly turn into information that allows for proactive actions. Problems are solved faster, trends are more accurately predicted and data is readily available for all important parties.
  • Cost Savings: Having better forecasting for the future, creating residency, paying less for jobs automation can handle and saving paper and other supplies and digitized data can reduce costs and complexity for companies throughout the supply chain.

2. Accommodating Shifts in Consumer Demands

Consumer demands are shifting towards broader assortments, customization, online shopping and higher delivery speed, which can be challenging to execute cost-effectively at high performance without the proper systems and strategies. Businesses are shifting their focus to meet these expectations and compete with the market, especially in these three categories.

Customization

One of the few ways to make a business stand out from competitors is to give customers a personalized experience or product that is unique to that business. By doing so, the supply chain must adjust to the production of customized products and fulfillment experience, which is harder to automate and streamline. This is where companies will have to get creative and find better solutions to keep everything moving efficiently. This can only be accomplished by reducing complexity and automating your business in all areas possible to have more time when it comes to time-consuming customizations.

Online Shopping

When every person you know can order a dozen different items with a few clicks, the sheer volume of orders and shipments can be staggering ­– and overwhelming – for an underprepared or underperforming supply chain team. Especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, buying behaviors have changed where shoppers are mainly online and add greater inventory planning and logistical demand to ensure customer satisfaction. More and more businesses rely on the success of supply chains to keep their customers happy, moving supply chain issues to board-level discussions.

Higher Delivery Speed

Along with more online shopping, retailers and businesses are trying to keep up with faster shipping and delivery options. The pace of life is increasing, and so are supply and demand. People and businesses not only need products more instantaneously, they also have instantaneous visibility to products in movement. Companies that can provide such speeds will leap ahead of their competition and bring in more customers.

3. Rethinking Supply Chain Strategy with Global Climate in Mind

Many people view the online world of commerce as an unending resource, but climate change is leading to resource scarcity and driving up costs, which affects both customers and businesses everywhere. Companies are starting to think about sustainable supply chain options and refocusing on circular supply chains to combat environmental risks.

Having greater awareness and forethought about climate change and resource scarcity may look like researching and testing alternative raw materials, shortening global supply chains, reducing packaging, working with companies who are mindful of climate issues and taking necessary precautions and leaning into digitized solutions rather than relying on physical resources when possible.

4. Mitigating Risk with More Careful Consideration

Making informed decisions that affect today and the future of supply chain management is nearly impossible without some form of risk mitigation. While it’s impossible to predict anything and everything, the pandemic reminded companies of the importance of risk management, leading to a greater focus on risk mitigation. An unpredictable world puts the supply chain at risk, such as damaging weather, the concentration of suppliers or political unrest, but it is still possible to be prepared for the unexpected.

Businesses need to have contingency plans to protect the supply chain from going down during a time of hardship or uncertainty. This takes research, gathering data and potentially using more advanced technology to get accurate predictions of your specific business. Other times, there is a more direct or literal solution; if a business gets its primary material from a socially and politically turmoiled area, it would likely be best to start accessing resources from elsewhere since that route is more unstable and unsustainable.

Risk management and knowing how to create a more agile and resilient company can be confusing and overwhelming, which is why it’s important to conduct research and use both tools and experts to properly analyze the risks against your business, which is what we’ll discuss next.

The best way to ensure that you’re using current trends to your advantage is to talk with an expert. enVista can help analyze your business and help you determine the best forward-thinking strategy to apply directly to your business.

Now that you have an overview of the most notable trends, it’s time to evaluate your current circumstances and see what needs to be let go, upgraded, or reinforced—which you don’t need to determine on your own. enVista provides supply chain consulting for businesses that need to revamp their strategies and compete in the market. From sales to development to inventory, enVista experts know the supply chain industry inside and out and are ready to provide support with concrete data and seasoned solutions.

Contact us today to talk to an expert and learn more about how you can stay ahead of the curve and drive competitive advantage.

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