Chain of Thought

Turn Your Predictions into Plans

January is when experts predict what will happen in the year ahead. This is a challenging exercise because it involves climbing out on a limb. We have a lot of experts in the material handling and logistics world, several of whom are on the advisory board of Material Handling & Logistics, and many of whom are MH&L readers.

In our next few blogs we’ll include our board’s predictions for 2014, and I invite you, dear reader, to weigh in as well. You may do so either by posting a comment on this blog or by sending me an e-mail at [email protected].

Before that, though, I wanted to give you some examples of what fellow limb-walkers have already predicted.  Simon Ellis and Heather Ashton of IDC Manufacturing Insights recently announced their top 10 predictions for the year.

These really boil down to the top 10 needs for businesses to survive well into the future.

Number one on their list is the need for operational resiliency. The remaining predictions are enablers of that quality, including investments in the technological and informational grounding of that resiliency. You’ll need visibility of what’s happening throughout your supply chain, especially if that chain extends to global partners in emerging markets.

But the one prediction on their list that really hit home with me was their number 3: “Volatile demand and extending supply will put pressure on supply networks to be closer to demand.” This is tied to a number of issues that weren’t spelled out on their list but boil down to one key aspect of how you’ll do your job: development of the global transportation & distribution infrastructure.

In the U.S. alone, roads and bridges are in dire need of repair. And with truckload capacity becoming problematic as a driver shortage threatens, shippers will have to make best use of space in trailers and trains. That means partnering with other shippers to fill truckloads and start thinking about intermodal opportunities.

Of course if supply networks really do move closer to the markets they serve, we’re bound to see the evolution of other forms of transportation—like courier networks made up of messengers in cars, on bikes and on foot delivering to a growing population of urban customers. We may even see package-carrying drones flying about in a couple more years, if Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ prediction is accurate. We’re sure to see more stores doubling as distribution centers to keep those messengers moving.

Such logistics flexibility will be critical if the predictions of environmentalists come true and we see more weather events like the arctic air invasion that spoiled many parcel carriers’ Christmases a few weeks back—not to mention the tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes we’ve also seen in recent years. Even if you don’t buy into climate change, these things happened and volatile weather patterns combined with volatile demand patterns are not predictions, but your new reality.

Take a look at an article we just posted addressing what needs to be done today to prepare for tomorrow. It may help you compile your own set of predictions—and plans based on them. If enough logistics professionals did this we could change those predictions into self-fulfilling prophecies.

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