Supply chain - predictions for 2018 trends
When Elon Musk recently announced that Tesla would start building electric semi-trucks that would have 500-mile range and come with a version of Tesla’s Autopilot driving aid, the world realized it wasn’t a matter of if, but when these new trucks would be hitting the highways. After all, this is the same guy who said he was sick of sitting in traffic and launched the Boring Company, which is now tunneling beneath the gridlocked freeways of Los Angeles. And let’s not forget Musk’s SpaceX, the Hyperloop and Tesla – all radically different companies predicated on technology innovation, creativity, disruption and long term commercial viability.
The pace of innovation is picking up steam at an exponential rate. With advanced hardware, software and connectivity becoming accessible and cost effective on a global scale, we’re experiencing an innovation shift from desiring “better gadgets” to discovering entire new business categories built around technology. The implications for consumers is exhilarating and at times terrifying. The implications for businesses is terrifying and at times exhilarating.
Technology has become fully embedded in supply chain management – just go to any supply chain conference and you will find agendas dominated by tech talk. Robots, self-driving vehicles, electric trucks, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and new mobile-enabled categories are all poised to explode onto the scene in one form or another. It’s hard to predict what’s real and what will fade away, but expect 2018 to become a year of heavy innovation for supply chain leaders, even if it’s experimental. But…
The Blockchain hype machine will continue spin. The technology has promise, but is still years away from any kind of mass adoption in the supply chain arena. New use cases will get published, CIOs will get excited, and some companies will engage with their IT vendors on projects to prove out where block chain can benefit the supply chain. In 2018, we should see a few viable blockchain concepts emerge because many existing companies and new startups will be trying.
The explosion of new devices and mobile capabilities will become more engrained in supply chains. Look no further than what’s happening with home appliances where new refrigerators and thermostats now come with internet connections and mobile apps. Whether it’s a new factory line machine, or a new truck, or a new DC, or yard gate, the supply chain is not immune. New machines are already transmitting granular status and performance information to the central control tower systems that companies use to monitor their supply chains. This will not help the big data challenge facing IT departments, but more information, delivered in real-time, will ultimately solve more problems than it creates.
Sharing economy solutions will begin disrupting logistics services. Uber and Airbnb proved that a well-designed mobile app has immense potential. We are now seeing Uber and others set up driver networks to deliver packages to consumers by using their personal vehicles. This trend will continue in 2018 and expect to see personal vans and even trucks begin to take on even heavier loads. Advanced mobile apps and off the shelf sensors will be able to provide better visibility and control than most shippers get today.
Supply chain visibility will become its own technology category covered by analysts. For the past two decades, visibility has been covered as part of other supply chain tech categories – ERP, TMS, WMS, GTM, SCP, S&OP, SCE – lots of acronyms. Gartner has been writing about Supply Chain Visibility (SCV) for the past few years as a “framework” which means SCV is inching towards a defined tech technology category. Companies are issuing RFPs for the capability and mature implementations are demonstrating significant ROI. Could we even see a Gartner Magic Quadrant for SCV in 2018?
The Amazon effect will impact supply chains beyond retail. Amazon’s investment in supply chain technology and services has been well documented over the past few years. The performance bar is getting higher with every announcement Amazon makes about how they are getting better and faster delivering orders. Same day delivery is no longer a wish, it’s for real. The consumer goods, automotive, industrial manufacturing and high tech industries are not immune to this phenomenon, and CEOs are challenging their operational leads to innovate like Amazon. Status quo is no longer good enough.
Innovation is the key theme here. If companies don’t embrace change now, they could find themselves disrupted into bankruptcy. In some respects, supply chain excellence can protect established market leaders from highly innovative upstarts because the art of making and shipping products around the world still requires a degree of “old world” processes that are not going away. But companies would be wise to invest in the concepts above (and others) so they build a level of innovation DNA to adapt with the changing times.
And who knows, once Tesla’s trucks hit the roads we’ll be predicting how to run an interplanetary supply chain between Earth and Mars. It should be fun to watch.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”