2020 was a year like no other. It has not only tested our patience but also changed how we conduct our day to day lives. We all realized our days might run good, bad, or ugly, but there are certain minimum players to run it, nevertheless.
On that note, the supply chain was one of the sectors that adopted more changes in the last few months than it typically did in years. Companies diversified their sourcing to more countries and embraced technologies at a much faster pace than ever. To that end, even Gartner listed Hyper-Automation, Digital Supply Chain Twin, Continuous Intelligence, Supply Chain Governance and Security, Edge Computing and Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, 5G Networks, as well as Immersive Experience as top eight supply chain technology trends.
On the hyped side, there is Blockchain. Although this buzzword has been in the market for a while, it hasn’t reached the maturity nor the expected rate of adoption. No one knows what problem it solves. The next trend on the list is Driverless delivery. This may be seen as automated driverless trucks or drones, but the technology is still in the experimentation stage. In the coming months, we might also see the use of5G in the supply chain, albeit it has immense potential on the consumer front than in the supply chain.
On the promising side, there is good traction and usability for AI/ML in planning and forecasting, transportation, and WMS (Warehouse Management System). With a little more effort on the data collection, AI/ML will bring a lot of accuracy and predictability in supply and demand planning, warehouse labor planning, receiving, pick/pack and ship durations in the warehouse operations. This will also helpin refining ETA calculations, last-mile delivery planning, and execution in transportation. The data needed for this trend is already being enabled by IoT (Internet of things), real-time traffic APIs (application interfaces), weather APIs, and the old favorite RF (Radio Frequency) ID. With the combination of real-time and available data, along with AI/ML, data can be studied, and systems can be tuned in real-time by machines themselves.
On the practical side, the warehouse operations is realizing the full potential of automated storage and retrieval systems, ASRS. The ASRS may be using traditional conveyors for full case pulls, or the Goods to person (G2P) system for partial/single unit picks. Both the systems provide a tremendous advantage in terms of speed, labor cost, and utilization of the space. There are so many players in this space who have proven this trend in multiple industry verticals with different implementation approaches. Likewise, there are IoT (Internet of things), temperature sensors, onboard computers, real-time GPS, and electronic data loggers that provide a great deal of transparency on the transportation side.
Another area that is constantly improving because of the forced demand is inventory accuracy. Gone are the days where a warehouse or store level inventory information was sufficient. This year, beyond just omnichannel delivery operations, companies need to up their inventory accuracy game even at store shelves level to meet the customer expectations. This, in turn, puts more emphasis on store operations, store inventory fulfillment, BOPIS (Buy Online & Pickup in Store), and BOPAC (Buy Online &Pickup at Curb) systems.
Alongside the wide adoption of 5G, one thing we can see getting adopted, from Gartner’s prediction list, is “immersive experience.” Already some of the online retailers have enabled options to upload customer photos and virtually view how a product would or look on them. With the lessons learned in online shopping this year, this trend will grow into the mainstream.
However, as an ending note, it might be practical to point out that a rigid pre-built supply chain software may not be enough to adopt these ever-changing trends. A modern, flexible no-code software platform may be the need of the hour for a nimbler player.