The Shape of Supply Chain Things to Come

Sept. 18, 2015
Here's a look at some emerging technologies that will change the face of supply chains in the near future.

Technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate. This was never truer than in the world of supply chain and logistics management. There is emerging supply chain technology being developed now that will have a major impact in the near future. Here's a quick look at some of these technologies.

Multi-enterprise visibility systems. These are systems providing a comprehensive and timely view of processes, solutions and metrics across the entire value chain. When implementing collaborative programs such as vendor-managed inventory (VMI), outsourcing, or just-in-time (JIT), it is important to also implement the infrastructure or processes necessary to manage inventory in this extended supply chain. This type of emerging solution offers a 360-degree view of supply chain events.

People enabling software. This is technology that empowers people to analyze, find, use, collaborate and to share data to maximize efficiency and workflow. ERP and other enterprise software solutions help enable and automate business processes, but they only alert users when problems occur; they don't help solve the problems themselves.

Technology companies are coming out with productivity tools that enable people to combine unstructured information and business processes with the structured business processes that ERP applications provide. This type of technology platform would enable users to handle multiple alerts to a smartphone, for example, empowering them to put the fires out on the spot by connecting customer, manufacturer/distributor, and supplier systems on a mobile device.

Execution-driven planning solutions. These are tools that utilize data from current executed processes to drive future planning and forecasting. Over the years, it has been common for many companies to have a disconnect between planning and execution. These systems will use information as to the current state of a business to help drive planning decisions for the next planning period in real time.

This will enable users to consolidate and aggregate massive amounts of data in meaningful ways by applying machine learning techniques to data mining algorithms to detect data trends. This will give businesses the chance to respond to problems and take advantage of opportunities much faster than before.

Human supply chain technology. These are solutions that apply supply chain technology to the management of human resources (that is, the labor supply chain) and allow companies to standardize job descriptions, capture spend and labor rates, and improve their hiring practices.  

Emerging Technologies in the Real World

Stanley Steemer

A national carpet cleaning franchise founded in 1947, Stanley Steemer has automated route operations at two of its branches, with mobile computers with integrated wide-area wireless connectivity, GPS and a magnetic stripe reader to process credit card payments in real time when service is finished.

Dispatching dynamically is enabled by the GPS and real-time two-way communication. This allowed the company to improve efficiency so that it was able to eliminate one full-time dispatcher position at each branch, each of which has significantly reduced paperwork processing time.

Mission Foods

Mission Foods is one of the world's largest producers of tortillas, with its products sold throughout the U.S. in a direct-store-delivery environment with supermarkets and retailers. The company switched from manual invoicing to invoicing with a handheld computer and printing a copy for the customer with a mobile printer. Invoices are sent electronically in real time to Mission headquarters over a wide-area wireless network.

This has eliminated the need for Mission Foods to scan and process thousands of paper invoices (not to mention savings in ink, as a thermal printer will be used). The small wearable printers will save drivers time and fatigue from climbing in and out of the vehicle to print invoices.

The application is a good example of the value of converged wireless.

Lighthouse for the Blind

Lighthouse for the Blind is a nonprofit organization that trains and employs non-sighted workers. Lighthouse was able to improve its warehouse picking accuracy by 25% with a new speech recognition system. This system has an audible confirmation of picked items, which allows the blind workers to accurately pick orders.

Social Security Administration

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) has implemented RFID systems in one of its warehouses, enabling the agency to track inventory and ship more efficiently to branch offices. This resulted in a 39% productivity improvement and a $1 million annual savings as well as a 70% labor savings.  

Paul Myerson is professor of practice in supply chain management at Lehigh University. He has an extensive background as a supply chain and logistics professional, consultant and teacher. The material for this article was excerpted with permission from his latest book, Supply Chain and Logistics Management Made Easy (Pearson Education, 2015).