Change is the only constant in SCM

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that you cannot step in the same river twice. Not only is the river constantly evolving, but so are you. In fact, as the maxim goes, change is the only constant. It might be subtle in some quarters, taking years to be discernible. But in other areas, change can upend the old way of doing things in mere years.

A prime example of rapid and relentless evolution is supply chain management (SCM). New technologies and innovations have significantly boosted its capabilities, and SCM is now able to deliver a lot more than what was thought possible a few years back. Here is a look at some of the exciting new developments in the world of SCM.

Automation in data analytics

The proliferation of sensors and IoT devices throughout the supply chain means that incoming data has grown from a trickle to a torrent. The manual approach of sifting through this data, especially in real-time, is no longer scalable or sustainable. So how can decision-makers keep track of what is happening throughout the supply chain without getting overwhelmed? Well, this is a challenge tailor-made for artificial intelligence and machine learning! All you have to do is feed in the raw data and let intelligent algorithms analyze it, connect the dots and, in the blink of an eye, come back with prescriptions and predictions. 

This paradigm shift in automation has created a new wave of startups that specialize in the convergence of AL, ML and design-led strategy, and can help you not only set up intelligent systems, but also ensure that they evolve as your business grows and new types of data flow in. Moreover, since these solutions are cloud-based, supply chain businesses are not bogged down by heavy Capex requirements for on-premise hardware.

The rise of digital twins

In real life, an expensive faux pas can tank your business. But if things go woefully wrong in the virtual world, you can simply reboot and start again. A simulation allows you to do the digital equivalent of a rinse and repeat. 

In SCM, as data pours in from multiple points across the supply chain, decision-makers are increasingly turning to simulations — that are powered by machine learning — to see how their decisions will ripple throughout the business. These detailed recreations of the entire supply chain in the digital domain are known as DSCT, or digital supply chain twins. You could think of DSCT, when combined with machine learning, as safe areas to test your theories or try out new ideas without actually putting your business at risk. DSCT can also warn you of bottlenecks or areas of concern in advance, help you fix things before they break, or provide optimal paths that save costs.

Supply Chain as a Service

SelectHub, an org that helps with technology selection, observes that as value chains become more complex, handling all of your supply chain processes in house has become nearly impossible. “Switching from manual processes to a digital environment, leveraging large amounts of IoT-enabled devices, analyzing data and much more all become necessary things that require skilled manipulation and maintenance.” 

But many organizations in the logistics and supply chain sector do not have the right talent in-house and are turning to outsourcing many of these critical processes. This has fueled the rise of SCaaS — Supply Chain as a Service. SelectHub points out that relinquishing control over key pieces of your supply chain makes adopting SCaaS daunting. “However, as you offload responsibilities, you’ll find valuable time to innovate, improve and optimize.”

Robots to the rescue

The takeaway from the Covid experience has been that robots have… well, a natural immunity to viruses and can keep calm, carry on working through a pandemic. And when you hook up robots to AI-systems, you can ensure there is zero — or minimal — downtime in your business. This is not to say smart robots will take over jobs and eventually take over the planet as shown in the Terminator flicks! Intuit calls it Cobotics, the practice on using robotics to increase human ability rather than replace it. In SCM, mobile robots can, for instance, automate and streamline the picking and packing processes, while supply chain teams manage the warehousing systems or the AI-powered data analytics.

The biggest change

Whether it is ML-backed data analytics or robots roaming around warehouses, perhaps the biggest change in SCM has been in the attitude towards technology. Stakeholders are now more receptive to new ideas and keen on leveraging them. As Intuit asserts, it has become vital for supply chain teams to understand the importance of incorporating technology into their processes, and not being intimidated by it. 

So the next time a robot comes knocking, remember that it might be there to pick up a parcel and not to snatch your job!