All chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) must deal with one main theme in the upcoming years: managing and overcoming macro shifts — whether it’s increased digitalization and automation needs, geopolitical instability or increased e-commerce. Technology innovations are critical for supply chain leaders to navigate those shifts while meeting purpose-driven goals and maintaining economic viability.
Learn more: The Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 for 2021
“There are many supply chain technologies on the market, and it gets increasingly difficult for supply chain organizations to decide which technologies they need to navigate their respective shifts and seize competitive advantage,” says Christian Titze, VP Analyst, Gartner. “Organizations that continuously evaluate supply chain technology innovations will be better prepared to incorporate new technology in their long-term strategy.”
Gartner buckets supply chain technology innovations by themes that supply chain technology leaders can use to determine strategic roles, impacts and investment priorities.
Gartner Supply Chain Innovations for 2021
The Gartner framework comprises eight supply chain technology themes, not individual technologies, because innovations often combine technologies to solve specific supply chain business problems and deliver business outcomes.
No. 1: Hyperautomation
The key principle of hyperautomation is that everything that can be automated will be automated. Technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) can all be deployed to facilitate or automate tasks that originally required some form of human judgment or action.
Over the next 10 years, people and businesses will need to delegate more and more authority of decision making to intelligent applications, physical robots and software service assistants. Hyperautomation is expected to help automate transactional processes, such as order to cash and complex decision making. Eventually, this supply chain technology innovation will augment human capabilities and support the creation of an autonomous supply chain.
No. 2: Digital supply chain twin (DSCT)
The DSCT is a digital representation of the physical supply chain. It’s the basis for local and end-to-end (E2E) decision making, as it ensures that every decision is aligned horizontally and vertically throughout the network. The DSCT is made up from all the relevant data across the supply chain and its operating environment. Then the data needs to be associated in a meaningful way so predictive and prescriptive analytics can be applied to create and judge/approve the different plans, scenarios and orders.
No. 3: Immersive experience and applications
Immersive experience technology enables its users to perceive and interact with the virtual world. Head-mounted displays (HMDs), wearables, smartglasses, 5G, and even smartphones or tablets provide the infrastructure and enhancements to immersive experiences through a mix of graphic processing, AI and other individual business applications.
“Immersive experience technologies have the potential to radically influence the trajectory of supply chain management. Pioneer companies already benefit from outcomes such as safer working environments, faster repair times, improved work error rate, better collaboration, and retention of skills and knowledge,” says Titze.
No. 4: Edge ecosystems
Edge ecosystems consist of edge computing and edge data-processing applications. They enable supply chain technology leaders to reassign and replan large swaths of data-processing capacity to the edges of enterprises, where things and people produce or make decisions. For example, this supply chain technology innovation can be used to track and monitor condition or temperature requirements across a product’s life cycle.
No. 5: Supply chain security
Supply chain security brings together a more comprehensive approach to address security risks such as counterfeits or cybercrime holistically across the E2E supply chain. With digitally connected E2E networks as an aspirational goal for many organizations, a new generation of scalable supply chain security technology solutions will evolve in the upcoming years.
No. 6: Environmental, social and governance (ESG)
Global supply chains have a pivotal role to play in their contribution to both map and assess ESG risks and opportunities. Current technologies enable the tracking of the origins of products, such as palm oil or soy and align with corporate biodiversity and climate change goals.
Read more: 3 Supply Chain Technologies to Accelerate Circular Economy Outcomes
ESG might seem like a “soft topic” at first sight. However, if companies choose not to invest in tools and technology innovations that govern, predict and adapt to new ESG impacts, it could have a significant influence on brand or company image, customer value perception, and the cost and availability of goods.
No. 7: Embedded AI and analytics
Embedded AI and analytics are software capabilities that deliver real-time reporting, interactive data visualization and advanced analytics and intelligence directly into an enterprise business application. This supply chain technology innovation is very useful in any of the supply chain functional domains. In warehouses, for example, mobile robot controls or intelligent robotic picking systems can leverage their embedded analytics to further optimize operations and increase productivity.
Read more: The Future of Supply Chain: Resilient, Agile, Purpose-Driven
No. 8: Augmented data intelligence
Augmented data intelligence is a combination of several technologies that facilitate advanced data processing on top of a data lake or platform and further allow for the delivery of insightful information, predictions and suggestions. These solutions collect, correlate and analyze several data pipelines and provide supply chain leaders with the information they need.