Supply Chain 2024: Why the pace of change will accelerate

John Santagate, VP of Robotics at Körber Supply Chain Software
John Santagate, VP of Robotics at Körber Supply Chain Software explains to Supply Chain why the pace of change will only increase

What is the outlook for 2024?

The supply chain industry has been in a state of transformative change over the last decade – and next year, the pace will only accelerate, especially with the advent of sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence and the continued investment in modern robotics. Forward-thinking companies will refine their outdated supply chain operations with time-saving and cost-improving systems and processes in the effort to become more efficient and resilient.

While we’ll see many technologies continue to evolve and certain processes targets for improvement, I believe manual picking and paper-based picking operations are scenarios ripe for improvement using modern technology. In today’s uneasy economic waters, cost is top-of-mind for organisations – with ROI being a shining metric.  Reliant on manual labour, businesses using paper picking processes have an immense amount to gain through adoption of more automated systems, especially autonomous mobile robots (AMR’s).  I suspect we’ll see more organisations look to optimise their use of warehouse management systems to assess spend, determine operational impact, and map out a path forward to technological expansion. Leaders hesitant to change will run into roadblocks and unexpected challenges, which we already saw first-hand when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Toilet paper had its 15-minutes of fame.

How will AI continue to impact the industry?  

In 2024, the organisations who invest in upleveling their supply chain operations will be well-equipped to achieve continuity and maintain satisfied customers – and for many, the next step may be exploring robotics and AI. While most industries have jumped on the idea of AI, the technology is still widely misunderstood and underutilised in the supply chain world. Today, customers want their products fast and the board wants their numbers strong, putting immense pressure on companies to please (what feels like) the unpleasable. Yet, AI can – and will – help businesses reimagine outdated or inefficient practices, from slotting to telematics. 

AI can refresh many parts of the supply chain and, in my opinion, refining the slotting processes is a perfect place to start. By applying AI to slotting, businesses can leverage savvy algorithms that understand order profiles/seasonality and attach the information to a system that would dynamically re-slot the operation. This would be transformative to businesses challenged with the pace of peak season, especially as customers are antsy for their shipments. In fact, a recent survey by Körber Supply Chain found 88% of consumers use apps/websites to track their packages that are in transit, with the majority (47%) tracking their packages once daily until arrival. This brings me to my next AI use case. 

There is a massive opportunity for AI in telematics. This technology can be used to give the tracking-obsessive customers the data they so desire, beyond the location of the vehicle. While the warehouse assets are completely connected upstream and downstream, we’re lacking the connective tissue – which is robbing us of the holistic picture of the data set. As we look to 2024, AI will begin to tie the mountains of available data together in a beneficial way, finding patterns where earlier modelling might miss an opportunity.

How will staffing and the quality of workforce impact 2024?

Lastly, I’d be remiss to not touch on the ongoing talent shortage, which has been plaguing the industry for years. In fact, Körber’s recent study revealed only 37% of supply chain professionals say they have sufficient staff today. This data point is concerning, especially as baby boomers start to leave the workforce. To mend this growing gap, more organisations will depend on sophisticated technology, like AMRs, to get the needed work done. Both goods-to-person (G2P) fulfilment models and collaborative in-aisle models (P2G) have seen a spike and will continue to grow in popularity given it helps companies best utilise its manual resourcing. When organisations introduce mobile robotics, their jobs are both glamorised and more efficient – a win, win. 

The supply chain industry has immense promise and opportunity in 2024 and I look forward to having a front row seat to the innovation.


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