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The Shifting Dynamics in Supply Chain
Mike Wilson, CEO, Consolidated Chassis Management (CCM)
One of the obvious evolutions has been the change from a hardware/asset focus to one that brings it to the next level via technology. We are seeing a demand from consumers to incorporate tracking and visibility into their orders, which has resulted in the entire supply chain increasing tracking and visibility offerings-- from containers to truckers to warehouses to final destination and everything in between. Twenty years ago, you had no idea when your sneakers were going to be delivered, but today you can see they are in a warehouse in Georgia on Monday, Pennsylvania on Tuesday and are scheduled to be out for delivery on Wednesday. Incorporating technology into asset management has allowed for a quantum leap in asset efficiency, as well as transport cycle transparency.
E-commerce is changing the way consumers shop and the way the supply chain looks at last-mile logistics. Once upon a time, shopping at a brick-and-mortar store was the most popular form of purchasing goods with the store responsible for keeping stock available or placing an order if necessary. Now you can place an order from your kitchen table from a seller anywhere across the world, removing the need for the middle man. While e-commerce was already shifting buying habits, COVID-19 accelerated the process, likely changing the way consumers “shop” forever.
The technological evolution has been a major driver in the move toward enhanced visibility and the proliferation of e-commerce. In fact, throughout the supply chain, we have seen technology and digitization bring tremendous value to all logistics partners, including easier processes for sharing information, enhanced collaboration and reduced time and effort spent on previously tedious and laborious administrative processes. Further enhancing efficiency is the ability of technology to analyze data and predict patterns, which helps ensure accurate forecasting.
One of the most significant challenges facing the supply chain is the lack of open communication and collaboration. Supply chain fluidity is optimized when all stakeholders openly share information. When this happens, you will find that equipment is where it needs to be, manpower is allocated properly, capacity is maximized, shortages are minimized. At the peak of COVID-19, we saw competitors become collaborators and that is how we kept store shelves stocked. As we start to recover, there is a risk that commercial interests will be placed before the best interest of the supply chain, where operating silos and communication breakdowns may result in bumps in the movement of the cargo.
In terms of technology, the uncertainty of the marketplace has many within the supply chain looking at technological solutions that address today’s specific challenges, but may not be built to adapt as the supply chain evolves. There is a wealth of technology product and service offerings available –some robust and comprehensive, others more narrow and fragile. Executives are approached regularly with claims of superior technology and unmatched innovation, but we must always focus on the fundamentals as a base requirement and recognize that there are no short cuts or guarantees. Decision makers need to see through the clutter to determine which technology has the agility, flexibility and scalability to meet the needs of your organization—today and in the long-term. Short-sighted planning during the middle of an evolution can have long-term ripple effects.
3. Which are a few technological trends influencing Supply Chain today? What are some of the best practices businesses should adopt today to steer ahead of competitors?
As blockchain, cryptocurrency, AI and API continue trending and gaining momentum within the supply chain, there has been an increased need to fully understand today’s technology, including systems vulnerability and cybersecurity. Integrating your team and third-party relationships with technology experts who have a passion for logistics and supply chain and believe in working collaboratively is the most valuable business practice you can adopt. Even the most advanced technology will wear out its usefulness if it is not supported and guided by the right team.
Decision makers need to see through the clutter to determine which technology has the agility, flexibility and scalability to meet the needs of your organization— today and in the long-term
4. Do you have any advice for industry veterans or budding entrepreneurs from the Supply Chain space?
If you are an industry veteran, do not stop learning. If you are a budding entrepreneur, do not stop learning. The supply chain is in the middle of an evolution with technology driving many of the changes. We need to keep ourselves open-minded, ready to learn about the newest trends and shifts in dynamics as they relate to supply chain and technological advances. Some ideas may be in the pipeline for this year and others may be in the infancy stage with up to a 5-10-year incubation period. We have a responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to each other to be remain fully informed and up-to-date.
In order to get where we need to go in terms of innovation, budding entrepreneurs need to stay in this industry, pushing past road blocks, presenting unexpected, out-of-the box solutions while continuing to listen to the veterans who understand the business. Veterans need to be open to new ideas while guiding the entrepreneurs -- asking the tough questions, showing the big picture, presenting the challenges—while keeping the dialogue going.