If the world of supply chain has taught us one thing, it’s that when one disruption happens, it can upend the flow of all operations. As this year once again brought a slew of unexpected events, from the UAW and UPS labor issues to the drought in the Panama Canal, supply chain organizations must proactively gear up for 2024. By identifying the key themes and trends poised to shape the year ahead, businesses across industries can not only mitigate challenges brought on by disruption but seize new opportunities and emerge triumphant.
It starts with digitization
Supply chain systems are often vast and complex which puts digitization—a process that involves converting all information into digital formats—at the heart of transformation. As organizations grapple with everything from fragmented data and disparate workforces to changing customer demands, creating digital supply chains will be key to making networks more connected, smart, scalable, customizable, and agile.
The journey toward digitization, however, doesn’t happen overnight. Organizations must lay the building blocks that will accelerate and enable these digital capabilities. As a first step, it’s important to run an assessment of current roadblocks, risks, and inefficiencies. Then, organizations should strategically invest in automation tools and cutting-edge technologies that can solve those challenges and work well with other systems. When properly implemented, digitization can empower interoperability and the integration of various capabilities such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, cloud, and more.
Harness the power of Big Data and analytics
In modern supply chains, the sheer volume of data generated is nothing short of staggering, and these extensive data streams hold a treasure trove of insights. By leveraging advanced data and analytics, organizations can gather the information they need to inform strategy and deliver more drastic results.
As an example, standardized freight data exchange promises to deliver remarkable operational efficiencies and may even reduce emissions by 22% by 2050. The data also shows that increased access to freight data can result in a 6% decrease in freight costs per kilometer. Furthermore, through data exchange, container ships can share key information such as their location and destination and the number of containers it is carrying. Having this information on hand helps ports prepare for the arrival of ships and quickly process goods.
In today’s uncertain environment, big data and analytics are important tools to keep in the toolbox — organizations would be remiss not to leverage their power to create efficiency, save costs, improve service, and boost overall performance.
Get on board with AI
AI and machine learning (ML) are no longer buzzwords, they are driving transformative change across every industry, including supply chain management. In 2024, expect the rise of AI-enabled supply chains — a world where smart machines, software, and apps take center stage and perform problem-solving tasks that once fell on human employees.
Early adopters of AI-enabled supply chain management have already unlocked immense potential for cost savings and increased productivity. Consider the utilization of AI-enabled technologies like cobots (collaborative robots) which can drive efficiency, accuracy, and even safety in more physically demanding settings like warehouses. Many companies are already on board and even ahead of the game; at BMW, computer vision technology is used to scan car models along the assembly line, streamlining quality control. Even Amazon has embraced this technology, deploying cleaning robots equipped with computer vision systems to scan inventory levels in its stores and warehouses, enhancing operational efficiency.
Advancements in AI are occurring at an unprecedented pace, delivering exciting returns in various supply chain areas. From intelligent sourcing and inventory management to optimizing logistical routes, AI is a driving force in creating a more agile and efficient supply chain.
Build resilience and agility
In today’s customer-centric world, supply chains are transforming to meet constantly changing demands and needs. This means that modern supply chains must not only react to change but anticipate it and be prepared for shifts in consumer and product preferences. This dynamic environment demands a new level of agility, one that can adapt swiftly and efficiently.
To build this level of agility, new capabilities and tools are essential. For example, digital technologies are now integral to manufacturing, with collaborative robots, smart packaging, and machines capable of rapid changeovers that can handle a wide range of products and shipment types. However, the foundation of a resilient and agile supply chain lies in its workforce. Skilled and flexible teams are essential, and talent that is comfortable working alongside advanced technologies to implement innovative concepts and solve complex problems will be more valuable than ever in 2024.
As we venture into 2024, it's evident that the supply chain of tomorrow is far more than a logistical network — it's a dynamic ecosystem where advances in technology are propelling us forward. Getting ahead of key trends now will help organizations maximize cost savings and efficiency and will sharpen their ability to adapt to next year’s demands. To be successful in 2024, organizations must prioritize embedding digitalization, data and analytics, and AI/ML into their operations and cultivate a skilled, tech-fluent workforce.