Industry analyst Gartner has named its top 8 supply chain technology trends in 2019.
“These technologies are those that supply chain leaders simply cannot ignore,” said Christian Titze, research vice president at Gartner. “Within the next five years, if half of large global companies are using some of these technologies in their supply chain operations, it’s safe to say that the technologies will disrupt people, business objectives and IT systems.”
The trends, according to Gartner, are:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI technology in supply chain seeks to augment human performance. Through self-learning and natural language, AI capabilities can help automate various supply chain processes such as demand forecasting, production planning or predictive maintenance.
“AI supports the shift to broader supply chain automation that many organisations are seeking,” said Mr Titze. “For example, AI can enhance risk mitigation by analysing large sets of data, continuously identifying evolving patterns, and predicting disruptive events along with potential resolutions.”
Advanced analytics span predictive analytics — those that identify data patterns and anticipate future scenarios — as well as prescriptive analytics — a set of capabilities that finds a course of action to meet a predefined objective. The increased availability of Internet of Things (IoT) data and extended external data sources such as weather or traffic conditions allow organisations to anticipate future scenarios and make better recommendations in areas such as supply chain planning, sourcing and transportation.
“Advanced analytics are not new, but their impact on today’s supply chains are significant,” said Mr Titze. “They will help organisations become more proactive and actionable in managing their supply chains, both in taking advantage of future opportunities and avoiding potential future disruptions.”
The IoT is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to interact with their internal states or the external environment. “We are seeing more supply chain practitioners exploring the potential of IoT,” said Mr Titze. “Areas that IoT might have a profound impact on are enhanced logistics management, improved customer service and improved supply availability.”
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
RPA tools operate by mapping a process in the tool language for the software “robot” to follow. They cut costs and eliminate keying errors. “We are seeing a significant reduction in process lead times RPA technology is used to automate the creation of purchase and sales orders or shipments, for instance,” said Mr Titze. “RPA technology reduces human intervention and improves consistency across manual data sources within manufacturing.”
Autonomous things use AI to automate functions previously performed by humans, such as autonomous vehicles and drones. They exploit AI to deliver advanced behaviours that interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people.
“The rapid explosion in the number of connected, intelligent things has given this trend a huge push,” said Mr Titze. “The once distant thought of reducing time for inventory checks by using drones’ cameras to take inventory images, for instance, is here.”
Digital Supply Chain Twin
A digital supply chain twin is a digital representation of the relationships between all physical entities of end-to-end supply chain processes — products, customers, markets, distribution centres/warehouses, plants, finance, attributes and weather. They are linked to their real-world counterparts and are used to understand the state of the thing or system in order to optimise operations and respond efficiently to changes.
“Digital supply chain twins are inevitable as the digital world and physical world continue to merge,” said Mr Titze.
Immersive experiences such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and conversational systems are changing the way people interact with the digital world. “In supply chain, organisations might use AR along with quick response (QR) codes and mobile technology to speed up equipment changeovers in factories,” said Mr Titze. “Immersive user experiences will enable digital business opportunities that have not yet been fully realised within global supply chains.”
Blockchain in Supply Chain
Although supply-chain-related blockchain initiatives are nascent, blockchain has potential to fulfil long-standing challenges presented across complex global supply chains. Current capabilities offered by blockchain solutions for supply chain include traceability, automation, and security.
“Organisations might use blockchain to track global shipments with tamper-evident labels, allowing a reduction in the time needed to send paperwork back and forth with port authorities and improved counterfeit identification,” said Mr Titze.
Analysts Will Explore Top Industry Trends at Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, 17-19 June in Barcelona, Spain.