There’s no doubt that emerging technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent in business. However, companies may not have a full understanding of just how these technologies could benefit their businesses – especially when it comes to their supply chain.
What’s the best way to extract value from the flood of data from connected assets? Can their IT systems absorb this change? How will all this new technology impact their business model? However, if businesses don’t embrace emerging technologies, they risk falling behind competitors who may be already reaping the rewards. So how do you ensure that this does not happen to your business?
“Supply chain leaders must assess their company’s risk culture to determine their readiness to explore and adopt emerging offerings,” according to Gartner. Whether at the enterprise or small and midsized business (SMB) level, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), blockchain, and virtual reality are not only improving business processes and saving valuable time and money, but they are also becoming standard best practice in today’s digital business landscape.
Emerging technologies have the power to improve the customer experience, making businesses a true partner and valued brand for its customers and partners. Most importantly, integrating emerging technology in supply chains, inevitably prepares companies for the future. Here are six examples of how emerging technologies can benefit your supply chain.
Real-time problem solving
Equipment malfunctions are a big disruptor in the supply chain. The impact is far-reaching from slowing down or preventing product development to delays with customer deliveries – it’s also exacerbated by how long it takes to resolve those issues. By connecting supply chain assets through IoT, extracting conclusions from this real-time data using AI, and then making this information readily visible through digital representations (or Digital Twins) of those assets, supply chain managers can be alerted about a potential issue before it even happens to quickly remedy the problem. We call this flow “Detect, Decide, and Act”. A Digital Twin can also provide predictive “what if” scenarios to help predict potential problems and thereby prevent asset failure.
Connecting the digital thread
Modern supply chain processes require a seamless flow of information across the entire value chain and throughout the entire lifecycle. This connected business process framework, which also often leverages information from emerging technologies such as IoT and Big Data, we call “The Digital Thread”. Such a “system of systems” allows transactions that were traditionally siloed, to be connected, and to thereby improve customer service while reducing cost to serve. It also opens up new potential business models, such as “pay on use”, “servitization”, and “micro-transactions” that would otherwise be impractical.
Remote & global access
Historically, supply chain managers and engineers had to be on-site for day-to-day management of the supply chain. That put a lot of constraint around properly managing all areas of the supply chain, often not located in one place. It also meant a lack of insight into the overall supply chain, leaving managers with disjointed views of partners, customers and inventory, and inevitably leading to long lag times in resolving any issues in remote locations. With cloud-based emerging technologies, supply chain managers can now proactively monitor their entire supply chain on any mobile device from any location. For example, if a supply chain manager, stationed in China would like to check on his production line in Chicago, he or she can simply click on an app via their mobile device to gauge the status of the production line. There is no need to travel half way across to world for insightful warehouse management.
And it doesn’t just stop at visibility. This connectivity also allows that manager to effect a change to that equipment or process remotely as well. Many of these actions can also be performed autonomously through decision making AI. In this way, emerging technologies make the smart, connected factory a reality, one that enables real-time data analytics through connected assets and helps take over the mundane day-to-day tasks of the supply chain manager.
Virtual reality training
Old roles are being redefined and new roles created. Fortunately emerging technologies can help train and prepare modern supply chain workers for these new roles. Virtual reality (VR), for example, can be used to navigate a digital manufacturing floor to help offer remote worker training. This type of training not only improves the employee experience through gamification, but also, ensures that the worker has a better understanding of best practices with the production line. For example, a worker who usually works at one location can easily transfer to another location through VR training based on another location’s production line operations. Additionally, training time is cut in half, enabling the worker to get back to work quicker, fully equipped with newly acquired skill sets.
Crisis management through blockchain
From E. Coli outbreaks in produce to faulty air bags in a car, recalls can quickly put businesses in crisis mode. In fact, Fresh Food Manufacturing recently had to recall close to 9,000 lbs. of food due to E Coli contamination. What if there was a way to source exactly where that contamination first took place to identify the cause of the contamination and minimize further spread?
Blockchain can offer the right checks and balances to help businesses better manage supply chain related crises. Blockchain can offer complete visibility and transparency into everything from where a product is sourced to where it’s manufactured and transported. In the instance of a product recall, blockchain can connect every logistic provider or manufacturer related to the product in question. That network can help trace just where the product development failed, why, and where other affected products may have been shipped. Blockchain provides an indisputable record of the product journey and its state, ensuring that the recall is handled quickly and efficiently.
Less waste, more savings
Today, sustainability and green initiatives play a big role into how supply chains are operated. Supply chain leaders are now asking:
- What can be done to ensure I am not over-ordering products?
- What can be done to ensure my products on the road remain in pristine condition to avoid waste?
- How can I reduce transportation times to help reduce emissions and gas use?
An inventory management system that includes IoT technology can provide managers with insights into trailers on the road and in the warehouse, so they know exactly what they have. IoT asset management and sensors can also help ensure refrigerated trucks are set to the right temperature for perishables, lowering food waste and getting the freshest produce possible to consumers. Additionally, AI can help identify patterns in ordering processes (and the timing of those orders) to predict when an order should be placed and exactly how much to order.
Given the overall digital transformation of business, it is imperative for businesses to embrace the change and adapt to the shifting needs of its partners and customers that only emerging technologies can address. By specifically utilizing digital disrupters like AI, IoT, VR and blockchain within the supply chain, businesses will no doubt reap the benefits for years to come.