By David Bennett, freelance writer.
Technology can turbo-charge supply chains in many ways, but only if you are willing to stay on top of the latest trends and embrace the ones which promise to deliver the biggest advantages.
With that in mind, here is a look at the key tech breakthroughs that should be considered essential for the industry this year.
GPS remains a lynchpin for efficiency & productivity
While GPS technology has been around for some time now, it is worth restating just how valuable it can be in a supply chain context.
From using GPS data to monitor vehicles, track goods, analyze performance metrics and assess efficiency, to deploying advanced techniques such as geofencing for the sake of security, there are myriad potential uses for this type of tech. It can even play a key role in delivering improvements from an insurance and liability perspective, so there are few areas in which its benefits are not applicable.
5G connectivity will catalyze IoT devices
The Internet of Things has been a much-touted technological development for the best part of a decade, yet it may only truly have its potential unlocked thanks to the rollout of 5G networking across many parts of the world.
As 5G coverage increases, the ability to rely on seriously fast, significantly more reliable connectivity for devices up and down the supply chain will empower businesses in a multitude of contexts.
From providing more accurate inventory tracking to keeping manufacturing processes running smoothly in large facilities, the move to 5G will allow IoT tech to come of age in style.
Autonomous vehicles will continue to gain traction
The autonomous freight industry is heating up at the moment, with established brands and ambitious startups vying to make a breakthrough that will completely change the way the transport sector operates.
The biggest barrier that remains is not a technological one, but rather a regulatory one. Autonomous vehicle producers need to convince the authorities that their systems and solutions are safe enough to use on public roads, and in most cases this means that human drivers will remain a crucial component as a precaution, even if there are already a number of routes being run by trucks that can haul freight without the need for manual input.
While this will remain a niche technology for at least the next half-decade, it is important for organizations across every supply chain to take note of its emergence and be prepared for the disruption that self-driving vehicles will create a little further down the line.
Blockchain data sharing will increase
For most people, blockchain technology is inextricably associated with cryptocurrencies, and yet there are plenty of other applications for it which go beyond the much-hyped rise of Bitcoin and its cohorts.
For the supply chain, the promise of blockchain as a data sharing solution is especially interesting, as it should afford organizations at all stages a means of distributing information transparently, while also doing so in a far more secure and indelible way.
Of course the crypto currency craze is also a force which may hold some sway over supply chain industry operators in 2021, if only as a means for carrying out cross-border transactions without any of the hang-ups of traditional financial systems. The volatility of even the most trusted currencies is still a sticking point for some, but as public understanding grows, trust will increase and the market should settle.
Machine learning will enhance organizational agility
2020 proved that unless businesses were willing and able to adapt to rapidly changing and evolving circumstances beyond their control, they would struggle to stay afloat. The pandemic will continue to dictate the direction that the global economy takes in 2021 and beyond, yet plenty of organizations in the supply chain industry will shore up their positions through the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence so that agility is always within reach.
We have touched on the ability to automate key processes and analyze data in real time in relation to other technologies covered above, and strong AI will be at the core of plenty of these disciplines going forward.
One aspect of this relates to wrangling supply to cope with sudden shifts in demand which may occur at the midpoint in the chain, due to the aforementioned possibility for dramatic circumstantial changes surrounding consumers’ day to day lives. AI can help with both the prediction of and the adaptation to these conundrums, so rather than businesses finding themselves ill equipped to respond to fresh crises, they will be capable of moving forward without stumbling.
The extent to which any of these technologies will impact your organization will depend on the position you occupy in the supply chain, but the interconnected nature of this industry means that even the tiniest change at one end can have ramifications elsewhere, hence the need to stay on top of these developments.