Five Technology Trends for Supply Chain Managers in 2019 - Jan 2019

We live in an increasingly digital world, and the supply chain is no exception. The digitization of the supply chain is well underway as shippers seek increased visibility, improved costs, and greater control over the flow of raw materials and finished goods. Each year, the supply chain’s dependence on technology increases exponentially. In 2019, supply chain managers should keep a close eye on the following technology trends and explore the potential they offer. 

1. Cloud Migration

Supply chain disruption can happen for myriad reasons, including political unrest, trade relations, natural disasters, freight capacity, hackers, and more. In recent years, supply chain stakeholders have begun to realize the advantages of a digital supply chain that lives in the cloud. Using cloud-based supply chain solutions not only offers an affordable alternative to legacy IT systems, but also gives users reliable uptime and improved security to help mitigate disruption.

The 2018 Internet Security Threat Report from Symantec highlights a 200 percent increase in malware attacks that hijack supply chain software updates to implant malware into legacy software systems. While cloud adoption initially met hesitation over security concerns, those concerns have flipped as cloud-based providers now offer robust data security far beyond what is feasible with on-premises and/or proprietary SaaS solutions.

The cloud offers protection of data in other disruptive circumstances as well. For example, if a fire, earthquake, hurricane, or other natural disaster impacts a facility, data remains safely in the cloud and backed up at multiple points, free from the danger of on-site damage.  For these reasons, as well as the affordability and ROI provided by cloud-based solutions, the supply chain cloud migration will continue unhindered in 2019 and beyond.

2. Blockchain

Blockchain’s potential to improve visibility and accountability across the global supply chain makes it an appealing prospect for the supply chain management realm. While pilot programs are underway around the world, blockchain is still largely a “what if” technology for the logistics world. Unfortunately, few real-world pilot programs with minimal participation by the global transportation sector will stall progress in this realm in 2019.

However, that doesn’t mean blockchain for supply chain is dead in the water. The Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) has recruited almost 500 transportation stakeholders since its founding in 2017 to create industry standards for the use of blockchain as a tool in global trade and freight movement. These standards will be an essential and crucial step toward more widespread development and implementation, but they will take time.

As more industry veterans get on board and more shippers and logistics providers begin to understand exactly how blockchain works and how it can benefit the sector, the technology will likely hold the interest of the freight sector for years to come. So, while blockchain might not explode as a disruptive new solution in 2019, seeds will continue to be planted this year that will grow in years to come.

3. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Predictive Analytics

The biggest changes in supply chain management are happening behind the scenes as the software solutions in use by the industry continue to get smarter. Rolls Royce has already been using artificial intelligence (AI) to guide the development of autonomous ships, while last mile  giant UPS uses it to optimize routes

Using AI and machine learning, shippers are learning how to enter past sales, forecasting, and transportation data to drive decisions. The result is predictive analytics, where past and current data can be used to forecast future market trends. AI and machine learning have given supply chain managers and marketers alike the ability to predict ebbs and flows across the value chain with increasing accuracy, turning what once seemed like luck and a little bit of wizardry into actionable data-driven decision making.  

Machine learning algorithms now drive significant supply chain improvements beyond demand forecasting as well. Programs exist to drive collaboration between shippers on the same routes, identify and remove damaged equipment from operation, reduce freight costs through consolidation and optimization of routes, and reduce carried inventory.

Inside the warehouse, AI can help managers improve worker safety by identifying and reporting unsafe practices that might otherwise go unnoticed. With this type of assistance, warehouse managers can find the weak points in their training methods and processes and correct them before an injury or financial loss occurs.

The potential applications of machine learning in the supply chain are near limitless, and 2019 will most assuredly hold exciting new developments in this field.

4. Robotics

Across the supply chain, robotics are being implemented to alleviate the skills shortage faced by sectors such as warehousing and transportation. With a little help from our robot friends, one physical worker can now do the job of several with ease.

While self-driving trucks won’t be common in 2019, pilot programs like this one will no doubt continue and regulatory hurdles will continue to be addressed. Many industry stakeholders are relying on the eventuality of self-driving trucks to alleviate the driver shortage plaguing the trucking sector. Rather than replacing drivers, this technology will be able to do the bulk of the work on long hauls, freeing up Hours-of-Service regulated physical drivers for local routes and short runs.

The warehousing and distribution sector also benefits from robotics, as automation gives some relief to an overburdened labor force. Robots can now pick and pack items and/or move them from place to place, freeing up workers to perform more difficult tasks. Similarly, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine tools enable quick and highly accurate mass production of parts for manufacturers, requiring less labor and drastically improving speed to market for many products.

5. Industry 4.0, Supply Chain 4.0, and the IIoT

All of the aforementioned technologies are simply evidence of the technological revolution occurring across the supply chain and manufacturing sectors. This trend is most popularly referred to in the logistics sector as Industry 4.0 and/or Supply Chain 4.0.

Just as the Internet of Things (IoT) connects our refrigerators and alarm systems to our smartphones and laptops, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) similarly connects suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers, further driving the ability to predict demand and carry less inventory. In 2019, supply chain partners will continue to collaborate digitally, sharing actionable data that will enable them to more efficiently move goods and provide services across the supply chain.

All of these new and exciting technological advances come together under the umbrella of Supply Chain 4.0, and the aforementioned subscription-based cloud solutions offer affordable access to all of the benefits these trends have to offer, placing even the smallest shipper on more equal footing with larger competitors.

Meet the Challenges Ahead with 360data/WSI

The WSI Family of Companies continues to monitor and implement the most recent technologies into our everyday operations, ensuring that our customers operate with all of the advantages these solutions have to offer.

From 360data’s cloud-based TMS, OMS, and B2B Integration solutions to WSI Supply Chain Solutions’ comprehensive suite of warehousing and transportation packages, technology drives success for us and our clients every day. We’re looking forward to what 2019 has to offer, and we are prepared to help you take full advantage of innovation as it comes.

To learn more about 360data’s cloud-based logistics solutions and how they can help you streamline your operation and cut costs, contact 360data or call us at 920-707-3601.

For more information about our warehousing, contract fulfillment and distribution, transportation, or any of our comprehensive host of supply chain management solutions, please contact WSI or call us at 920-830-5000.