Emerging Trends in Supply Chain Management

The judicious deployment of supply chain technology and automation tools, techniques and solutions would be the key differentiator in the next decade or so for supply chain professionals


Supply chain management as a field has been evolving continuously over the last three and a half to four decades. However, the pace of change particularly in the last decade or so has been truly rapid in every sense of the term.

This change has impacted every aspect and sub-function within the supply chain right from supply chain design to new product introduction to sourcing to final customer delivery. The rapid transformation that we see around us has been contributed to a large extent through the advent of e-commerce and omni-channel retail.

E-Commerce giant Amazon has been a trend setter in the supply chain space – especially in the field of analytics, IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence), cloud computing, process automation, fulfilment center management and last mile transportation and delivery optimization.

Supply Chain Technology and Automation

The judicious deployment of supply chain technology and automation tools, techniques and solutions would be the key differentiator in the next decade or so for supply chain professionals across various industry segments/verticals such as manufacturing, automobile, health care, energy, oil & gas, retail, CPG/CPD, pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, FMCG, construction, heavy engineering etc.

The degree of investments and the scale and depth of deployment would vary from industry to industry and various supply chain functions within these industries.

Some of the latest technologies and automation solutions impacting global supply chains in varying degrees include:

  • Digital Manufacturing
  • 3D Printing – Additive Manufacturing
  • AI – Artificial Intelligence
  • IOT – Internet of Things
  • AR/VR – Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • Blockchain
  • Robotics
  • Driverless Vehicles
  • Advanced Analytics and Big Data – Predictive & Prescriptive
  • Cloud Computing

Global MNCs have begun piloting and deploying one or more of the above technologies and tools in their business thereby impacting costs and service delivery in a positive manner. In this article, we will focus on AI and its key building blocks in brief.

Machine Learning – tools and techniques related to deep learning and predictive analytics. The forecasting systems of the future shall be developed around machine learning

Natural Language Processing – tools and techniques related to translation, data classification & clustering and information extraction

Speech – tools and techniques related to conversion of speech to text and vice versa

Expert Systems – a database of expert knowledge encompassing all the key supply chain management functions and used for decision making

Planning, Scheduling and Optimization – tools and techniques related to advanced supply planning, demand planning and forecasting, inventory optimization, facility location and distribution network optimization

Robotics – use of Robots for specific process automation in manufacturing plants, large central warehouses, plant warehouses and fulfilment centers

Vision – tools and techniques related to image recognition and machine vision; modern warehouses have begun to deploy vision based picking in addition to pick-to-voice (PTV) and pick-to-light (PTL) systems that have been prevalent for a while.

Data Management

The above mentioned technology trends would have significant ramifications in terms of how data in its various forms and formats would be stored, distributed and used. This implies the use of effective data security systems and related policies to ensure ethical use of data impacting the triple bottom line. The triple bottom line or TBL relates to three major perspectives – Economic, Social and Environmental

Data Technology architecture would comprise:

  • Efficient Data Warehouses
  • Accurate and up to date Master Data
  • Extract, Transform and Load Technologies [ETL]
  • Structured and Un-Structured Data Management
  • Cloud Computing
  • Software as a Service [SaaS]

India is in the process of fine tuning its Draft Data Protection Bill in line with the Shrikrishna panel recommendations. A case in point is the EU GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation developed by the European Union [www.eugdpr.org]. These significant developments would result in responsible and ethical data management in the coming years.

Emerging Functional Positions

Key functional positions within the sphere of future supply chain organizations would include but not limited to the following:

  • Chief Data Officer
  • Chief Data Scientist
  • Chief Risk Officer
  • Chief Project Officer
  • Chief Program Officer
  • Chief Customer Officer

Emerging Skills

The supply chain and operations professionals of the future would need skills revolving around the core of “Analytics”. These skills include:

  • Leadership
  • Customer Focus
  • Cross-Functional Management
  • Technology
  • Problem Solving
  • Strategy

The 3Vs – Visibility, Velocity and Variability

Finally, the modern and emerging supply chains of the future would need to be nimble, flexible and responsive while trying to balance supply chain costs with customer service. These factors are normally impacted by and are closely interlinked to the 3 Vs – Visibility, Velocity and Variability.

Here again, most of the emerging people, process and technology trends aim to address velocity and visibility. End to end supply chain visibility would entail the greatest amount of attention.

With abundant transactional data and the associated computing power prevalent today, it is highly likely that appropriate deployment of digital technologies could help address the most critical V i.e. Visibility across the entire supply chain till the end consumer or customer. But it is easier said than done as implementation bottlenecks would need to be tackled deftly.