Envisioning the Future of Supply Chain

Although we will never be able to predict the future, with a bit of extrapolation and foresight, we can try to imagine it. Today, advances in science, technology and supply chain management may only be constrained by the limits of our imagination and ingenuity. And as our supply chain management capabilities evolve, so will the technical, business, and leadership skill requirements and performance expectations. One of the best ways to prepare for supply chain's dynamic and exciting future is to examine the megatrends that are impacting, improving, and reshaping our industry.

Creating a future-ready workforce
One of (if not the most) important aspects of a supply chain is its people, and because of that, it's important to understand how the workforce will change in the future. The world population and demographics will look very different in a few decades. Growing urbanization, greater gender equality, and increased longevity will all impact the future workforce and consumer spending. On top of that, employee and employer expectations, modes of communication, and the very nature of work itself are changing-due in part to the aforementioned advances and the rise of the consulting, freelance, and gig economy. With a more fluid and flexible future workforce, supply chain organizations will have to adapt their leadership styles and professional development programs to attract, onboard, train (and retrain), manage, and retain engaged global colleagues.

Aside from the shifting workforce, there are many factors on the horizon that will strongly influence the future of supply chains, and each of these is an important consideration for supply chain leaders. Some of these are related to future shifts in population and how people live, but advances in technology and data collection will also have enormous influence on the future end-to-end supply chain. The following explores how data, digitization, and transparency will continue to shape the future of supply chain.

The impact of data-from actionable insights to predictive analytics & responses

Big data and analytics already allow supply chain managers greater insight into their operations, which enables increased efficiencies and greater data-driven insights. The number of data sources in the supply chain is expected to grow exponentially, which will offer managers even more opportunity for contextual intelligence and more knowledge sharing across and between organizations. For example, with additional data, planning and decision-making will improve across an organization, which can lead to decreased costs and time spent on operations.

Data-driven insights have the power to decrease risk, improve transparency, identify trends, and initiate automatic responses where it wasn't possible before. The supply chain of the future will build on these benefits to become even more streamlined and efficient than it is now. However, it's imperative that organizations are open to learning new processes for harnessing and interpreting this data, otherwise they may face intense pressure from more agile competitors.

The digital transformation

The digital revolution has impacted nearly every industry to date, and the supply chain is no exception. Digitization affects everything from customer experience to operational processes to business models, and companies that embrace the digital transformation will likely perform better than their analogue counterparts. Today this digital revolution is leading to increased technological autonomy and intelligence in some areas of the supply chain, which in the future will no doubt affect the supply chain workforce. New types of skills and certifications will be needed to manage these new technologies, while other skills and certifications will no longer be in as high a demand due to automation.

Organizations that combine digitization with strong leadership will remain competitive and outperform those who oppose the trend.  

Transparency & consumer activism

Supply chain transparency is not a new topic. With the growing consumer support for sustainability and ethical procurement, transparency is an issue that has been gaining momentum in recent years. On average, 55 percent of global consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact, which has no doubt influenced supply chain organizations. Social media platforms also give consumers new outlets for obtaining information, sharing viewpoints, and organizing boycotts, and this trend will only continue in the coming years. This type of consumer activism has led to some backlash for some companies, but overall, it's made a positive impact on supply chain organizations by positioning the issues of sustainability and ethics at the forefront of company priorities.

Supply chain organizations should increase transparency across their supply chains, and they should ensure the information they release improves trust and credibility for the company.

Looking to the future

In order to ensure your supply chain is ready for the future, company leaders need to be armed with the right technology, the right knowledge, and the right people to manage it all. Although pinpointing when and what will have the greatest impact on the future of supply chain remains unclear, investing in the right education is vital to ensuring your company is prepared to face the changes ahead.

Today, the supply chain is considered a strategic asset for most companies. Tomorrow, the supply chain may very well be the most critical company asset. By keeping abreast of trends, continuing to improve processes, and embracing technology today, supply chain managers can ensure they are well equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

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