Meeting the demand - SCM Technology report - December 2018

Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke to a number of key spokespeople from the vendor and analyst communities about recent developments in the world of supply chain management-related software – including those involving mobility, SaaS/Cloud, Big Data and Digital Transformation.

The opportunities as well as challenges within the supply chain arena have never been greater. With the growth in omnichannel now sitting alongside the more traditional world of in-store retail, for example, companies have to be more efficient than ever. With this and a range of other issues on the table, we invited the vendor and analyst community to set the current scene and provide valuable informed suggestions as to how supply chain professionals can look to optimise their game and sharpen their competitive edge through greater technological and stragetic insight.

So, to begin the debate around current supply chain trends, Dwight Klappich, research VP at Gartner, reflects that supply chain organisations are striving to improve their overall supply chain maturity, where the vast majority are mired in Stage 3 and below maturity. “Supply chain maturity and SCM technology maturity are aligned such that organisations of higher SCM maturity have higher technology maturity, notably the shift from an inside-out view of the world to an outside – in (multi-enterprise) view of the world,” he says. “While companies want to improve their maturity, regrettably too many are stuck with SC technology investments being more focused on addressing current challenges than preparing for future ones. For example, reducing operation costs of basically improving decision making processes versus investing more in transformational technologies.”

Bob Forshay, senior client manager, Panorama, comments that key areas currently drawing the most attention are 1) BPM, Business Process Management, 2) Value Add through better linkages with supply chain partners, 3) security, 4) blockchain and 5) AI, Artificial Intelligence. He elaborates:

  1. “BPM (Business Process Management) is finally getting better traction at firms where the leadership understands the value of mapping ERP and technology to their native business processes instead of the other way around.
  2. “Integration capabilities continue to grow value add for customers where supply chains can be extended in new ways. Beyond more efficient Walmart kinds of supply chains, Amazon Restaurants and Uber Eats are demonstrating how new forms of value adding is coming from better integration. Customers love convenience, and this is just one more step towards greater value realised by better integration of systems.
  3. Security, still a hot topic and growing hotter across many supply chain leaders’ desks, how to secure your operation and keep risky players from connecting to your supply chain network. Most firms have their hands full managing the suppliers they have already. Now we have to include security and risk evaluation in managing suppliers.
  4. “Blockchain is coming quickly. It adds another layer to the security of individual transactions, making the audit trail secure. This could drive down cost of supply chain management.
  5. “AI, artificial intelligence is machines learning how to read and recognise patterns, trends that in the past could be done only by humans. This means a computer can learn to interpret demand patterns and the need for human skills to do forecasting is changing quickly. Driverless vehicles are another area of AI that is taking transportation quickly into lower cost scenarios.”

Generating valuable insights

Rajiv Sarin, senior director, business services at Capgemini, points out that organisations are sitting on a huge amount of data from different parts of the supply chain. “There is a lot of discussion and debate around how this data can be used to generate insights,” he says. “Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have added to this curiosity and the art of possible.”

Sarin adds that Blockchain is also generating a lot of interest among organisations, and experts are evaluating use cases to see how they can leverage the technology to provide traceability and to reduce costs and risks. “The availability of mobile solutions for supply chain management (SCM) is changing the way supply chain executives access and utilise the information to aid decision-making and enable quick execution,” he explains.

Platforms

Bryan Ball, VP & group director – global supply management practices, Aberdeen Group, highlights the discussion around platforms as opposed to point solutions, and how these platforms are going to increasingly connect, resulting in considerable supply chain management improvements. He explains that in the mid-’90s data could be pulled up at the planning level and pushed back to the MRP for execution. And as that process evolved the data not only sat on top of one MRP but across multiple MRPs. Then, not only did it span MRPs but also spanned distribution centres and suppliers etc.

“So, the concept of an end-to-end control tower became the main model and continued to evolve,” he says. “However, the ability to elevate to a model that spans all the elements in the supply chain is almost unachievable because the model is almost infinite. Today, building a model not only needs to connect a company to its supplier but to its supplier’s supplier, all the ports, all the shippers and all the networks – and this could be worldwide. Therefore, people are now talking about the idea of working in sync with everything – that’s where the platform concept comes in. Now, platforms are connecting horizontally, and the idea is that the model can span enough for companies to have more connectivity and control throughout their supply chain.”

Another area of change Ball is witnessing involves AI and machine learning. “Machine learning is now very prevalent in supply chain solutions,” he says. “AI is also already having an impact. AI can search, find, update and provide information that’s needed quickly. In fact, you could take AI as a concept and apply it to just about anything. Returning to the platform concept, if I have AI and I’m searching everything out there and all the feeds are coming in I can look for anything that is a real exception, and by comparing it to my plan I can then quickly update anybody who needs to know of any required changes. That’s pretty powerful.”

Gopal R, global VP, transportation & logistics practice, Frost & Sullivan, and Suriya Mohan, industry analyst, transportation & logistics practice, Frost & Sullivan, comment that Supply Chain Information Management Systems such as e-procurement solutions, vendor and payment management, Transportation Management Systems (TMS), Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Distributed Order Management (DOM) and other information management systems aids in improving efficiencies in freight transportation, mode and carrier selection, order management, inventory management, and other critical processes.

Agility

Gopal R and Mohan add that agile supply chain strategy helps the industry participants to respond rapidly to the volatile market conditions and variable cost structure that fluctuates in proportion to the revenue. And with Industry 4.0 in place, Gopal R and Mohan point out that many logistics industry participants are undergoing digitisation process.

Disaster recovery

Tej Bhondi, consultant manager – projects, Access Supply Chain Software, points out that there is the need for effective disaster recovery to protect key functionality in your business, as both the global cybersecurity threat and our reliance on technological systems increases. “All companies, not only those hi-tech businesses, need to consider how their systems will be able to recover from a wider range of events than ever before,” he says.

Bhondi adds that the transition from the traditional on-premise systems to Cloud/SaaS systems has been relatively slow in comparison with some other sectors. However, as systems become more complex, feature rich and expansive, he believes there will be a natural switch to these systems. With regard to AI and machine learning, Bhondi thinks the future suggests less people and more automation. “As our homes get smarter so does SCM,” he says. “I think the next 10 years will be interesting to see where AI appears and what efficiencies could be brought to the table based on investment and up take by businesses.” Bhondi adds that automation and data exchange between systems is becoming increasingly important to ensure traceability and accuracy throughout the supply chain.

Ripple effect

Craig Summers, UK managing director, Manhattan Associates, reflects that the rapid adoption of connected consumer expectations and compressing delivery window pressures have had a ripple effect and driven the need to drive more cost out of the supply chain. “As a result, organisations are attempting to deliver new and faster ways to fulfil, utilising suppliers, stores and partners in more unique and complex ways than ever before,” he says. “Today, advanced fulfilment and delivery activities are also exploding within and around the store itself, which is forcing manufacturing brands and retailers to look at modified distribution centres and transportation networks. All of which must be able to scale significantly, due to the complexity and quantity of store locations and peak trading times.” With this in mind, Summers maintains there is also a need for effective order management, returns management, new store models and next-generation POS systems.

Andrew Briggs, technical director, BEC (Systems Integration) Ltd., highlights quicker reaction to changing customer needs and market forces as a key current focus within the SCM industry. “Customers now expect much quicker deliveries and expect full visibility of their order as it progresses through the supply chain,” he says. “They expect to be able to order three sizes of shoes, keep the pair they prefer, and return the other two free of any charge. So, the returns handling process need to be as slick as the outbound process.”

Shaun Phillips, global market & product manager, DynaSys believes embedding analytical capabilities into the core of supply chain decision making has changed the game. “Supply Chain is now leaving machine intelligence to do the math while human practitioners focus on value-add activities,” he says. This, states Phillips, is driven by several factors. He continues: “The adoption of embedded analytics at the core of supply chain is a necessity to manage massive amounts of data that has become accessible due to the IOT. There are unprecedented volumes of data available but there are unprecedented expectations of the problems the data can help solve; there are insightful sales trends to identify, predictions to make, outliers to examine, exceptions to initiate action, and no end to these types of critical questions in supply chain.”

Digital procurement

Maria Toft Madsen, country manager Northern Europe, TIMOCOM, highlights digital procurement – solutions for standardisation, optimisation and transparency – as a key area of development. “The SCM process in every company is different, which often complicates the cooperation with the transport partners; especially when the companies are from different countries,” she says.

Toft Madsen recognises the transport chain as an essential part of the SCM. “In every company something as ‘simple’ as transport order documents are different, even within one country,” she says. “From the manufacturers’ perspective, optimising and standardising the transport order documents with all business partners of transport and logistics companies of different type and from different countries is not possible as such. Different documents equal a lot of paper work and administrative extra tasks to fit them into a manufacturer’s existing system. But it would save a great deal of time, when the manufacturers – especially the SMEs who are very sensitive regarding work force resources – would start looking into digital solutions who can help in order to standardise and optimise their logistics chain. The result could to some extent also release work force resources or maybe even save SME manufacturers from having to hire an extra employee to manage all the not-standardised paperwork. Work force shortage and the concern hereof could then also be dealt with to some extent through an increase of the use of such digital solutions.”

Regarding optimising the work with business partners and cost-saving in the transport chain, Toft Madsen comments that digital solutions would also be recommended, e.g. in relation to the selection of and the comparison of transport companies and prices. Not just as a tool to use in relation to existing business partners, but also regarding reaching a network of multiple service providers and receive the best services and the best prices and thereby secure the competitiveness.

Integration

Have ways of best integrating SCM with other systems developed to any notable degree over the past year or so? “Yes, definitely,” says Forshay. “There are several firms out there now actively testing integration of AI to support demand management. Tied into this is both WMS and TMS where value is realised when time can be reduced for picking and shipping. Optimised load planning for trucking will quickly advance capabilities for faster delivery. Faster means more revenue for a given capacity.”

Sarin considers that integration is now an essential ingredient within any SCM tool. “Integration has matured to such an extent that if a SCM system can’t do it properly, then it won’t be able to compete and will be out of the race,” he said. “The SCM software of the future needs to not only integrate with ERPs, SCM, and work management (WM) systems within the company’s systems landscape, but across the enterprise with its customers and vendors.”

Redefining the process

Gopal R and Mohan make the point that major logistics and manufacturing industry participants are held up with legacy enterprise systems. “Digital transformation is all about the company’s willingness to redefine the process with their product/service offerings,” they say. “In today’s practice, certain supply chain solution providers with complex multi-party network took measures in having an integrated platform for them to monitor and evaluate their process. In logistics industry, control towers are more of an integrated information hub which brings technology, process and people into one single loop.”

Klappich considers that while the large suite vendors want integration to be the most important issue to justify their suites, Gartner finds that integration, while important, is not the end all and that best-of-breed vendors are pretty good at it. “In 18 years, I cannot think of a WMS project that’s failed because of integration,” he says. “Furthermore, integration with emerging technology specifically voice is mature, and there are tens of thousands of users already using voice. It is not quite ubiquitous, but it is mature, proven and low risk.”

Briggs makes the point that with a common platform, the supply chain function becomes integral to the ERP as does the WMS function, as opposed to distinct, disparate systems linked together with points of failure.

Phillips explains that the techniques used for integration have evolved in step with technology, so he believes one could argue that the change is revolutionary. “However, the frequency, the volumes and the types of data that systems connect to has changed exponentially,” he says. “We are drinking from the proverbial data fire hose, but the data challenges are greater; not all of the data is structured and a large amount is unstructured, not all of the data is relevant, and not all of the data is decision-grade quality. Data is changing in real-time, and the volume keeps increasing. The Internet of Things (IoT) poses an opportunity for organisations to transform their business model using connected solutions.”

Predictive behaviours

Bhondi reflects that Application Programmable Interfaces (API) have revolutionised the ways systems communicate with each other and have allowed greater sharing at higher performance and reliability than ever before. “In the future through the use of the use of Machine Learning and AI these direct computer-to-computer integrations will continue to be optimised to provide deeper more ‘intelligent’ operations with self-remediation and predictive behaviours,” he says.

Cloud/SaaS

How has the Software as a Service (SaaS) model (and the Cloud concept in general) impacted the SCM software solutions market? Phillips maintains that the Cloud is no longer a deployment option, but rather a market segment. “Tech vendors must offer a true Cloud solution that is not just hosted, but also leverages the benefits of a shared infrastructure platform,” he says. “The on-premise SCM solutions will soon become a relic.”

Briggs comments that standardisation of solutions drives quicker implementation times, reduced training and support requirements. “The scalability enables quicker rollouts into other business divisions/acquisitions,” he says. “Delivery of seamless continuous updates eliminates downtime. A centralised platform for managing functionality, data, users, security, devices etc.”

Bhondi thinks that, in general, the SaaS model and Cloud has been an enabler for all businesses, including the SCM software solutions market. He adds that challenges still remain that are unique to the nature of the SCM software market – especially around communications – but Cloud and SaaS has enabled companies of all sizes to benefit from increased reliability, performance and compliance on a predictable and scalable system that meets the needs of any size of business. Bhondi observes that we are still awaiting full user adoption, but recognises that SaaS allows low complex SME SCM businesses to adopt an easy-to-use, easy-to-administer and easy-to-implement SaaS solution without any complexity.

Forshay observes that a greater number of smaller firms are now able to take more full advantage of their ERP and other aspects just from having a reliable source. “Smaller firms tend to have needs but not the deep pockets for the tier 1 ERP packages,” he says. “This is where SaaS shines; offering the features, bandwidth and scalability to smaller firms who are growing but not there yet.”

Klappich states that across all SCM application categories, Cloud/SaaS is not where some other applications are such as sales force automation or procurement or HCM, but it is growing rapidly. “In some categories like procurement, global trade and transportation we have already seen the move to Cloud first (i.e., the vast majority of new deals going Cloud),” he says. “With other categories like MES, WMS and OMS we are not quite there yet, but we see a continual shift from on-premise to Cloud. For example with WMS, only 8% of customers are Cloud today which given the market maturity is to be expected, but over 40% of customers say that next time they buy a WMS, they will go Cloud.”

Ball considers that rather than rip and replace its supply chain management system there could be functionality nuances a company might need. “For example, I might find I’m now supporting retailers more often and so need some SaaS collaboration tools to add to my existing SCM. So, I can get the pieces I need using the SaaS model as opposed to maybe committing to a wholesale change of my SCM. Also, with SaaS the ability to stay current with technology can be easier. The other side of that is probably a lot more decisions are going to be made around not getting a point solution but choosing a SaaS provider with a platform that looks like it’s designed for the future – able to incorporate AI and machine learning and so on.”

Sarin believes it has made SCM solutions more affordable, while reducing implementation time and the headache around solution scalability. He maintains it has also made the overall software solution less complex and easier to maintain.

Less upfront cost

Gopal R and Mohan reflect that the SaaS model requires less upfront cost with features to protect information flow from internal and external security breaches. “Licensed software requires high investment, strong internal resources to manage the systems and integration with external sources is cumbersome,” they say. “Cost, security and features are three key differentiating parameters that work in favour of SaaS models over software solutions. For example, Cloud-based low cost solutions are opening up opportunities for the Small and Medium Enterprises.”

Summers considers that Cloud has had a huge impact on Supply Chain Management. “With the warehouse becoming the backbone for a true omnichannel experience, the Cloud allows manufacturing brands and retailers to maximise its full capabilities,” he says. “With the Cloud comes scalability and functionality that allows warehouses to adapt to peaks in customer demand without risk. Those who have invested in Cloud-based tools will be in a much better position to accommodate high demand.” Summers adds that, of course, another added advantage of the Cloud is that systems can be managed and monitored anywhere.

Mobility

Are mobility solutions having an impact on SCM? “Absolutely, Yes,” says Forshay. “Smaller mobile devices allow for local information to move at the speed of light, not waiting for a paper process or batching process. We’ve had POS, point of sale data for years. Now we can see this same capability moving out to construction, projects, factory floors and with excellent results.”

Bhondi observes that the demand for accessible data is increasing, which means data is required in the Cloud for access. He adds that, in particular, e-commerce is having an impact on Warehouse Management. “Mobile computers, tablets and IoT devices have been instrumental in the change of use of systems and the freedom and flexibility of their consumption,” he says. “By providing direct access to systems from any Internet enabled location; updates, tracking and management of orders, processes and assets can now be performed in real-time and with greater ease than previously possible.”

Briggs believes mobility solutions are the key to having the information you need, when you need it, wherever you may be. However, he adds they are also the driver for that information, by feeding in the transactions in real-time from the edge.

Justine Clark, Honeywell’s industry marketing manager of transport and logistics in Europe, observes that mobility solutions are having a large impact and influence on Supply Chain Management. “We’re a tech-driven culture and people are accustomed to using their smartphones in all aspects of their lives,” she says. “It’s a natural extension to use rugged versions of these devices in the workplace, especially as today’s mobile computer interfaces are resembling the look and feel of smartphones.”

Clark adds that within the four walls she has seen that workers accustomed to the graphical user interfaces on their smartphones are often challenged when using the traditional ‘green screen’ interfaces commonly found in distribution centres. Clark explained that through its Mobility Edge platform, Honeywell’s Smart TE powered by StayLinked enables secure, high-speed emulation to connect these mobile workers to back-end systems. “Users have benefitted from intuitive, customised interfaces and not having to navigate through complex, number-based menus to access data,” she says. The Smart TE software provides consistent operations and management on mobile computers, and the software helps businesses stay productive as sessions can be transferred from one device to another and can be quickly resumed when a device is rebooted.

Outside the four walls, Clark makes the point that Microsoft is rolling out its end of life support for legacy Microsoft operating systems (Windows CE 6 or Windows Mobile/Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5). “Mainstream support, which includes regular updates, has ended for both legacy systems,” she explains. “Microsoft extended support (security fixes) will end for Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 in early 2020. After this date, vendors will be unable to provide patches should a vulnerability or error be found in Microsoft code.

More intuitive and user friendly

“More developers are working in the Android operating system to create applications, making them more intuitive and user friendly. We’re making ‘future proof’ platforms – reducing total cost to own. Devices built on the Mobility Edge platform, such as Honeywell’s CN80 and CT60, share the same internal components, so when an update is pushed out the devices respond similarly.”

Clark adds that mobile technologies continue to transform global industries, and businesses must stay ahead of these changes. “The innovation of scanning and mobility helps data generation. Features like scanning barcodes help provide more detail, which in turn can provide supply chain visibility that helps provide context and meaning to the data generated.”

Phillips believes that, without doubt, mobility solutions are becoming preferable to desktop solutions. However, he maintains that this change is not driven from data integration which can be equally executed over desktop or mobile. “Our experience tells us it is the younger millennial workforce expecting to work on such devices,” he says. “This generation has an unprecedented comfort level with trusting AI decisions, deploying on Shared Platforms and outsourcing business functions. This is a generation where touchscreens, swiping and mobility are the norm. According to US census data, by 2020, the millennial workforce will make up a third of the workforce and they will be populating executive roles.”

Sarin explains that mobility solutions are changing the way supply chain executives access and use enterprise information. “The ability to get the right information at the required time, coupled with the ability to execute decisions, is making supply chains extremely agile and resilient to market dynamics,” he says. “For example, a supply chain executive can immediately get to know the impact of a new customer order on the entire supply chain and understand and effect changes in the system to ensure timely fulfilment.”

Klappich maintains that mobility is most mature in SCM. “We have been using mobile devices in warehouses for over 30 years now, same in transportation, so it is fair to say mobility is mature and nearly ubiquitous,” he says, adding that no doubt we will see new uses cases.

Greater affordability

Gopal R and Mohan comment that mobile technology costs are increasingly becoming more affordable for all businesses, and that logistics industry is no different in that space. “Legacy systems with wired devices sometimes fail to communicate effectively which causes hurdles in process management,” they say. “Enterprise mobility facilitates supply chain productivity and functionality, as access to data and real-time information becomes readily available.

With the emergence of IoT, mobility solutions add value to transparency in supply chain process. It helps logistics companies to make informed decision to fuel better customer satisfaction rates, business growth and profitability.”

Big Data

Is Big Data having a notable impact on SCM solutions? Summers explains that the access manufacturers, distributors and retailers now have to vast amounts of data through their SCM and Omnichannel solutions is having a positive impact on the customer experience. “For example, enterprises can use customer engagement tools such as social listening to see every touch point a customer has with their brand,” he says. “By embracing this data, they will be able to truly tailor the customer journey based on previous interactions with the brand. For example, if feedback from a customer indicates that there is a desire for faster delivery or improved service, brands or retailers can see this in real-time and make changes as required.”

Clark considers that Big Data is having a huge impact in SCM solutions, and makes the point that many in decision-making roles are pressing ahead with the investment. “Big Data provides access to more analytics, helping in improving processes, reducing costs and providing actual insight to any supply chain management trends or issues that could help prevent downtime and lost revenue,” says Clark. “There are even companies that are monetising the Big Data they acquire, making it a commodity to others that would benefit in a deeper dive of the data to help make them more efficient.”

Toft Madsen believes the use of a manufacturers’ Big Data has a great impact on the competitiveness. “Big Data has become essential to monitor and compare if each part of the supply chain is optimised, if the quality is optimal and flexible enough to react quickly to unexpected/unforeseen manufacturing peaks,” she says. “In the transport chain this requires the cooperation and sharing of the Big Data from the service providers to the manufacturer’s system. The sharing on the other hand, requires a digital solution like the TIMOCOM Smart Logistics System, which offers the possibility to share e.g. ETA (estimated-time-of-arrival) data from a transport providers’ vehicles through a third party like a telematics provider to the end-customer, the manufacturer.”

Bhondi sees a move from single bespoke legacy systems that handle all functions of a business in a single monolithic platform to more disparate SaaS systems. “The need for Data Warehousing or Big Data systems is becoming key for companies who need the ‘big picture’,”he says. “Reporting and Analysis can now be performed on an end-to-end basis from for example the order through production to delivery to the end consumer in a single pane of glass allowing for greater operational insight, process effectiveness and efficiencies. Information and Analysis of these Big Data systems though BI and Analytics not only allow for better historical analysis but can also be used for more advanced predictive modelling over larger timescales to aid forward planning and scale.” Bhondi adds that trending and analysis is now more readily available as we store and report on more and more data. That said, he makes the point that it’s not just about having all this data, it’s how you use it to inform further business decision.

Intelligent analytical techniques

Phillips believes Big Data is having a huge impact on the world of SCM solutions – not so much because of flexibility but more in terms of accessing more data in real-time. “To serve this need one must introduce intelligent analytical techniques to make sense of it,” he adds. In terms of the main drivers for these Big Data developments/enhancements, Phillips believes these are influenced by changes to the structure of supply chains. “Global supply chains are not longer linear in the Big Data world,” he says. “Modern supply chains look more like global fragmented network of networks. The data in these networks changes rapidly. Relying on monthly or even weekly planning cycles creates a delay in decision making that reduces agility. Companies have access to all this data on demand & supply, and they have need to use it to respond quickly to real-time events, risks, and opportunities.”

In terms of drivers for Big Data developments, Briggs cites the convergence benefits of several solutions onto a common architecture, with the shared BI tools and common Cloud-based database and analysis tools.

Digital Transformation

How is Digital Transformation having an impact on SCM? Klappich believes this is a significant driver for new technology investment in the supply chain. “The biggest difference is the shift in the focus of technology investment from primarily value (e.g., $£) driven to strategic and competitive (e.g., risk and survival),” he says.

Forshay comments that when leaders understand the gains to be had, this makes sense. “The ability to link all echelons and nodes of multiple supply chains together reduces lead time, lowers risk and inventories while driving up service levels across the larger organisations,” he says. “This offers a path for leveraging that ‘single source of truth’ to all participants in the supply chain, including trading partners.”

Sarin points out that digital transformation enables organisations to go on a journey to create an exact replica of the physical supply chain – a ‘digital twin’ on an application, if you like. “Aided with powerful algorithms and superior number crunching power, digital transformation is now able to help the supply chain executive take faster and more informed decisions,” he says.

Gopal R and Mohan explain that digitised supply chain practice integrates right set of technologies with revamped operations. “This has a lot to do with the capabilities and features available with digital technologies,” they say. “This helps the deploying companies to overcome inefficient manual practices and builds capability to respond rapidly to potential business disruptors. With digital transformation, supply chain planning moves from periodical to real-time planning which facilitates operational efficiency, asset and financial optimisation.”

Looking to the future

What might be the next major developments in the world of SCM? According to Sarin, the next big innovation will come in the space of AI. “As existing use cases become formalised, AI will start shaping how future SCM software is designed,” he says. “AI will also take the power away from established big vendors and move it to more nimble players who can innovate to quickly resolve problem cases for business scenarios and get them to market rapidly.”

Gopal R and Mohan comment that the combined impact of digital technologies has resulted in new types of business entities and business models in the logistics industry. “This will further develop into industry disruptions, with supply chain visibility becoming a need versus value add,” they say. Gopal R and Mohan add that companies should definitely look into blockchain, which leverages on the open standards. They also point out that implementation of wearable technology is expected to complete the warehouse task 30% faster and 300% more accurate compared to the traditional process.

Klappich makes the following observations: “AI – Now but moving to embedded not standalone generic AI platforms (i.e., vendors embedding AI capabilities inside their applications to solve specific problems).

“Robotics – autonomous mobile robots will grow exponentially over the next decade as companies increasingly struggle to find enough people to do mundane tasks.

“IOT – This is not new, but the big difference now is we see mainstream buyers entering the market, and they are looking for ‘packaged’ solutions, not generic platforms (e.g., predictive maintenance). This will accelerate growth as vendors bring these packaged solutions to market.

“Blockchain – Blockchain is overhyped right now and vendors much like they did with RFID in 2004 are overselling the technology and clouding the message with ambiguous and overhyped rhetoric. However, there are legitimate value propositions for blockchain that will surface over the next 3 to 5 years, and this will then drive growth. Right now, it is a bunch of one-off projects and far too much hype.”

Forshay reflects that one new technology is demand-driven MRP that optimises materials flows based on risk of shortages at certain points in a manufacturing flow or supply chain. “This is a powerful tool that has already shown great promise,” he says. Another area where he anticipates continued development is in the ability for an ERP environment to seamlessly integrate across functions as native features.

Augmented and virtual reality

Bhondi considers that many key future SCM-related developments will revolve around robotics and automation together with augmented and virtual reality – particularly in manufacturing. He also cites AI, specifically within WMS. “Pick to light and conveyor automation has been around for over 10 years; the next step is AI – by that I am talking about removing human control out of warehouses and linking this with automation,” he says. In terms of future Big Data developments, Bhondi point to predictive learning and notifications to the supply chain.

Summers makes the point that warehouse automation might not be new, but robotics are becoming increasingly popular in warehouses. “For many, the mindset has often been man vs machine; however, for an efficient warehouse, humans must work alongside robots to increase efficiency and bring costs down,” he says. “A warehouse cannot be efficient if man and machine are not working in harmony. Warehouse Execution Systems that allocate workload and synchronise robotics with humans will become increasingly important.”

Ball believes AI and platforms will continue to develop. “If platforms connect maybe blockchain can now support platform-to-platform,” he says, “In other words, I could have created a basis on which blockchain can connect and be effective. Where blockchain might hit a wall is where I have one-off solutions. Standardisation is going to be the key to that; standardisation may be between platforms where the integration becomes pretty iron-clad. And with Cloud in place the concept of blockchain and a more seamless flow of information can potentially become a reality.”

Better projections

Ball adds that AI intelligence could also be applied across platforms; not just within a company’s own network or its own supply chain model. “I could have my own AI bots out there looking for things at the boundaries,” he says. “There could also be cameras and sensors in ports and cities around the world and they could help to inform me of any potential disruption; for example, to the possibility of political unrest by monitoring the number of meetings that are taking place in town squares and so on. This could help me to anticipate supply chain problems before they happen. The same idea could be applied to weather patterns for example. Incorporating this type of data into the supply chain model to enhance decision-making could prove highly valuable. I think these kinds of projections are going to become standard.”

Phillips points out that we are seeing the emergence of Digital Twins, BlockChain, and the rapid maturation of machine learning influenced decision making. “It is a great time to be in SCM software,” he adds. “The SCM world is an exciting place right now with so much change and unprecedented potential and opportunity for improvement.”

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