Top 10 Predictions for Global Supply Chains

March 4, 2010
Companies will evolve from a fixed-cost-driven supply network to a variable-cost-driven value network

None of us can fully know the longer-term impact of the current global recession, nor whether its effects will be transient or permanent. Certainly, our sense is that many of the capabilities that proved useful in mitigating the negative effects of the recession will be reinforced by those who had the vision to develop them and copied by those who did not.

The overall theme for IDC Manufacturing Insights’ supply chain predictions this year, and indeed our research for 2010, is the notion of rethinking supply chain structures in an effort to move to more of a variable-cost-driven rather than a fixed-cost-driven network. Clearly, this is a response to a great deal of uncertainty about whether individual markets or companies will return to prerecession sales and volume levels or whether current, hopefully post-recession, levels are the new baseline—the “new normal.”

Given this uncertainty, and the extent to which modern, more connected and integrated supply chains proved useful in mitigating recession effects, we certainly expect to see supply chain modernization accelerating coming out of the recession. This, we believe, will not just be about getting current but developing fundamentally different capabilities (strategic outsourcing, shared capacity and collaborative innovation).

Building from this theme for supply chains in 2010, IDC Manufacturing Insights makes the following 10 predictions:

Prediction #1: Dynamic Optimization Will Dominate Capability Investment to Support Redefining of the Supply Chain
Although it runs the risk of becoming something of a buzzword, we believe that 2010 will be the year of optimization—not just optimization management but finding better ways to drive out waste and maximize productivity. Broadly, we anticipate strong interest in inventory management and optimization, sales and operations planning, and strategic network optimization tools.

Prediction #2: S&OP Will Reemerge as the Synchronizing Process for Reconciling Supply and Demand
At IDC Manufacturing Insights, we have made the argument that sales and operations planning (S&OP) is even more critical than ever in unpredictable economic times, and the investment priorities for manufacturers seem to bear this out. Manufacturing supply chains are not going to suddenly become simpler, as increasingly available data sets make business planning and execution more complex, not less.

Prediction #3: Balancing Supply and Demand Across the Value Chain Will Prompt a Strategic Redesign of the Supply Network
We have talked extensively in recent years about changing thinking in the supply network. Global demographics and expected demand growth seem quite clear, and many current low-cost countries are well on their way to becoming global economies with enormous untapped demand with a workforce looking for a globally fair wage. We are also seeing many companies recognize that logistics cost now exceeds labor cost and that optimizing for the latter drives an unfavorable overall cost. Certainly, there are industries or product groups for which this is not true, but as demand shifts and energy cost climbs, it is worth keeping a close eye on your product lines.

Prediction #4: Supply Chain and Product Lifecycle Management Applications Will Increasingly Converge as Manufacturing Companies Focus on Innovation Delivery
As product lifecycle management (PLM) adoption grows to facilitate better innovation delivery, we expect to see an increasingly close interaction with supply chain and supply chain management applications. If new product development and introduction (NPDI) is the lynchpin of this closer association, it is due to the essential nature of both developing an appropriate new product for the marketplace and then being able to manage the launch process via the supply chain to market in a flawless fashion.

Prediction #5: Intelligent Supply Chains Will Put a Broader Visibility Burden on Supply Chain Organizations—Both Owned and Outsourced
To the extent that visibility—particularly actionable visibility—has been a challenge across a network of owned facilities, it can be even more of a challenge across a hybrid network. Certainly, key performance indicators (KPIs) and shared metrics can be stipulated in the service-level agreements, but this does not necessarily provide the level of visibility needed to manage the network in turbulent economic times. To facilitate more intelligent supply chains, it is the view of IDC Manufacturing Insights that 2010 will be the year that visibility comes of age.

Prediction #6: Supply Chain Organizations Will Invest in Capabilities that Facilitate Global Operations
If manufacturing companies are going to make the leap from multinational operations to truly global ones, they must be able to navigate the global trade “waters” with greater acuity and better cost management than they do currently. We have seen major global trade management (GTM) introductions from the likes of Oracle and significant capability from niche vendors like GT Nexus. While it remains to be seen how closely integrated GTM needs to be with more traditional transportation management capabilities, we do think that this will be a hot application for manufacturers in 2010.

Prediction #7: Transportation Capacity Will Tighten, Causing Supply Chain Organizations to Rethink Fulfillment Strategies
Shippers enjoyed a rare treat in 2009, namely a glut of transportation capacity that resulted in ever-lower lane rates and a spate of transportation network rebids. The excess capacity, and by extension depressed lane rates, are not sustainable and will not last. The 2009 holiday season was an improvement over 2008, and the expectation is that shipment volumes will improve through 2010. Even if volumes do not recover adequately this year, many of the unsustainable lane rates will force additional capacity from the marketplace and, one way or another, the transportation industry will return to a more traditional supply/demand balance.

Prediction #8: The Increasing Pace of Supply Chain Outsourcing/Offshoring Will Keep Risk Management High on the Strategic Agenda, but Investment Will Remain Focused on Building Risk Awareness
Although we don’t see large investments in risk management in 2010, we do hear increasing interest in risk-related capabilities in applications like supply and demand planning and optimization tools that can bring focused risk management capabilities, including faster contingency planning. Regardless of the broader economic conditions, leading manufacturers continue to find ways to develop the right combination—risk awareness and early detection, followed by rapid response, but for now, with minimal new IT investment.

Prediction #9: Smart Services and the Need for Persistent Assets Will Create the Inflection Point for RFID, Sensors and M2M
In the past couple years, a large number of manufacturers and technology providers have reached the point where they treat RFID, sensors and machine to machine (M2M) as foundational technologies that play a critical role in increasingly well-defined and valued use cases. What’s common across those use cases is the fact that many of these solutions wouldn’t exist without data acquisition technology. Now that we’re past the basic hurdles of RFID and M2M and sensors, companies are able to see the possibilities. And this is exactly our point for 2010—that this year, the ability to provide smart services and to persistently track and monitor an asset will create a sufficient business case for adoption to reach the inflection point.

Prediction #10: Armed with Metrics, Manufacturers Will Move from Sustainability Reporting to Intelligence
Analytics are going to play an important role in the transition from reporting to intelligence, but we also expect improvements to be made in the input—in data collection, perhaps through the addition of sensors and M2M—as well as improvements to be made in the output—better information sharing to get the information in the hands of people who can make the hundreds of necessary decisions that impact a company’s environmental footprint. There’s an element of accessibility that’s important in this process, perhaps through integrated mobile devices, Web-based access, or even social networking. All of these changes are going to be in play in 2010, and we expect manufacturers to do the more difficult work necessary to be able to make the necessary decisions and trade-offs to improve their environmental footprint and ease their regulatory burdens.

Simon Ellis is practice director, Supply Chain Strategies, with analyst firm IDC Manufacturing Insights.

This article originally appeared in the Logistics Today digital magazine. To read other articles from that issue, click here: