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4 focus areas in supply chain for 2018

2017 has been an exciting year for supply chain. From my own experience I’ve witnessed how companies are raising importance of implementing digital technologies in supply chain and customer support whereas in the past few years, the focus was primarily around product & service innovation, marketing and sales.

Now more than ever, supply chain and innovation are tightly connected and some of the newest technologies are realizing benefits in supply chain more than in other areas. Take for instance blockchain and its applicability in multiple use cases for supply chain, or the implementation of cognitive visual inspection in manufacturing to deliver better quality products.

I wanted to end this Year sharing my thoughts on what’s going to become hot trends in Supply Chain during 2018 and how technologies can support. Whilst some of the innovation shared here is not new, I think it’s the right time to consider for implementation.

1. Sustained and efficient Risk Management. Advanced analytics

Advanced analytics can reach out sources of structured & unstructured data and can now provide to supply chain organizations with that edge needed to get alerts on time and make the optimal decisions. This new analytical capability can build correlation and patterns among disparate sources and provide alerts that mitigate challenging supply chain risks with minimal cost and less sustainability impact. Think for example the shortage in NAND flash memory affecting different makers since 2016 and it will continue throughout 2018(*). Advanced analytics would provide with an alert right on time to make the best purchase decision to secure stocks at best prices and avoiding the extra monetary and environmental costs of a reactive decision when the risk happens (ie. the shortage becomes a reality and companies need to procure supply at higher prices and reduce impact with more expensive expedite transportation needs that impacts the environment too). IBM Supply Chain has been pioneering the implementation of  advanced analytics of this kind, collaborative tools and cognitive solutions for some years now and it have proven to deliver excellent results to risk management and sustainability as you can see on this video:

2. Supply chain transparency through traceability and provenance

We are reaching a stage where certain information and communication technologies, such as tagging, geolocation and blockchain are spanning the right level of maturity for supply networks to provide real-time / micro-level tracking of parts/goods within a parcel or a pallet and be able to determine provenance in a trustworthy way. Sensors and tagging solutions have become affordable and many manufacturers have already deployed tracking solutions that provide them with the real time capability to trail finished goods and critical parts in both inbound and outbound logistics. Here are some exciting examples:

  • IoT & Blockchain for tracking counterfeit parts and efficient warranty managementlink
  • IoT Product tracking to enhance customer experience by Mercedes Benz – link
  • IoT & Blockchain provenance for food safety in Walmart- link

3. Seamsless and superior delivery experience

By extending the omni-channel experience to post-sales support, building 7/24 hrs – 365 day capability, leveraging on better traceability but above all, developing a truly client-centric delivery organization and supply chain. With the right organization and process design you would be surprised how much value can be unlocked to your clients. When looking at helpful technology investments, you ought to consider a strategic move like the modernization of your ERP back-bone whilst looking at quick efficiency gains through robotic process automation and truly cognitive API- based technologies like chat and conversational bots that strengthens the potential of your organization beyond human boundaries. As you can see, the possibilities here are immense and they don’t need to be tied to complex implementation projects. Here is a quick and solid way to start a journey to S4/HANA and the following tube has an example on how easily a chatbot can enhance client experience:

 

4. Shopfloor modernization

It’s been almost 7 years since the introduction of the Industry 4.0 concept and the reality is that there’s still a long road to walk. As manufacturers continue to invest heavily in modularity, interoperatibility, virtualization and real-time capability, I found that certain technologies can help delivering tangible benefits and new value in manufacturing pretty fast. Take for instance mobility with AR to help with equipment maintenance and production configuration or Visual and Acoustic cognitive capabilities and analytics to help with product quality. Here’s how visual inspection would work:

 

There is of course more but hey, this is just for starters !

 

(*) https://www.allaboutcircuits.com/news/nand-flash-memory-shortage-projected-to-continue-into-2018/

SCM Senior Managing Consultant - Global CoC Electronics at IBM

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