5 Trends Every Supply Chain Leader Should Focus on in 2021

Now is the time to adopt an “inside-out” perspective, leveraging the unique strength of company-owned data partnered with emerging technologies for a stronger, more resilient future.

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With the world now more focused than ever on maintaining the flow of goods -- from exercise equipment and household items, to essential goods and services like personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccines and medical supplies – supply chain strategies, once invisible to customers, have become more of a public concern than ever before.

Today, everyone including remote employees and frontline essential workers rely on supply chain managers to make sure that food, medicine, equipment and other vital supplies reach the hands of those who need them, when and where they’re needed. To quickly respond to disruptive environments, heavy investments in artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and automation allow enterprises to be more dynamic, responsive and resilient, as well as interconnected to both their external ecosystems and internal processes.

To innovate and meet shifting customer needs in an ever-changing Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and post-pandemic world, enterprises need to build smarter supply chains with the kind of investment described above and embed them with intelligent workflows.

Intelligent workflows modernize legacy systems to make supply chains operate more smoothly and efficiently by infusing end-to-end and front-to-back process with exponential technologies to deliver exceptional outcomes and differentiation.

With new features such as item locators and predictive analytics, retailers can anticipate demand and ensure inventory to fulfill customer orders. AI and automation capabilities also help strengthen retailers’ mail delivery channel, offering curbside delivery options.

Smart supply chains will understand demand signals and their rapid changes based on a variety of factors, including current consumer behavior and seasonal surges. They will need to understand patterns and changes in stock keeping units (SKUs) to better manage risk and prevent unnecessary shortages. They will make decisions from a control tower that combines aggregated data to holistically view processes across sourcing, planning, manufacturing and fulfillment to create multi-process intelligent workflows. This will provide better coordination and orchestration across from end-to-end.

Embracing AI and collaborative tools, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain can pull together insights from massive amounts of supply chain data. Future supply chains will have the ability to drive relevant insights to those best suited to responding to certain issues, like delegating machines to complete zero-touch and lights-out operational tasks.

These technologies and workflows of the future will reimagine new ways of working that meet and exceed the expectations of today's ecosystem and customer base. Specifically, intelligent workflows will challenge siloed processes and uncover efficiencies across a network of processes and partners. Convergent technology will connect these workflows to foster collaborative problem-solving for a shared outcome. This also involves supplier integration and identifying where redundancies can be built for resiliency.

Here are five trends that every supply chain leader should be focused on in 2021 and beyond, to help power responsiveness and flexibility, so they are better prepared for future unforeseen disruptions:

1.      Customized customer experiences. With the new generation of consumer expecting to order what they want, when they want, from wherever they want, hyper-personalized buying experiences are becoming the norm. Supply chains need to deliver differentiation through radical customer customization, with the customer experience integral to virtually all operational touchpoints.

2.       Self-learning operations. Supply chains should strive for autonomy, with connected devices and assets that understand the current state, learn and take action accordingly. This next-generation approach to supply chain planning uses AI capabilities to sense and respond to change, maintain continuity during disruptions, foster constant collaboration between disparate teams and external partners and shift from demand response to predictive demand creation.

3.       Agile operating models. Agile operating models can provide near-instant insights in support of an organization’s workforce, ecosystems and fluid work unit teams. For example, to help gain an accurate view of inventory positions and optimize vaccine allocation, stakeholders will need a supply chain bolstered by advanced technology like AI to identify early warning signs of disruption from external data, optimize orders based on critical need and manage inventory reallocation and prioritization.

4.       Transparent, ethical networks. Blockchains can enable cross-industry, multi-enterprise networks to provide shared visibility into trusted data that can drive insights and decisions. When connected with the supply chain, blockchain networks can also remove transactional blind spots between partners, reduce order errors and improve dispute resolution.

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5.       Dynamic computing configurations. These environments—hybrid cloud, platforms and edge—can provide responsive data insights and security. For example, all of the incredible work it takes to create a vaccine could be undermined by bad actors, counterfeiters and the threat of cyberattacks. This information and level of threat is not new; however, the effects of a global pandemic have brought a new appreciation of the risk and potential impacts.

So, what are the common themes across these five supply chain trends?

Data, insights and technology – specifically, emerging technologies that empower supply chains to curate broad sets of data, leading to more valuable insights. The ability to identify and relentlessly fixate on real-time opportunities can be a game-changer, especially given the volatility of our pandemic-era supply chains. Rare opportunities now exist for organizations to evolve more quickly from an “outside-in” digital transformation perspective. To compete at the highest level, now is the time to adopt an “inside-out” perspective – leveraging the unique strength of company-owned data partnered with emerging technologies for a stronger, more resilient future.