You can’t move in the supply chain without being jostled from buzzword to buzz phrase. The supply chain management sector are pros at giving concepts an easily recognisable name, even better if it can be shortened to an acronym. But which of these buzzwords are important, and crucial to the future of supply chain management, and which are more hype than substance?
The Internet of Things
This one is the marmite of the supply chain world and tends to be a love or hate thing. You’re either at the stage where you cringe every time it’s mentioned, or you realise that it really matters in your business. The two approaches aren’t actually complete poles apart. The problem here with the IoT (see, we love our acronyms) is that the phrase has been somewhat overused.
It’d be pretty tough for someone to argue that the IoT is irrelevant to modern supply chain planning. Perhaps the issue is that it’s now so integral to what we do that we no longer need to actually spell it out? Perhaps it’s simply old hat?
In reality, you cannot ignore it. You, and your customers, and every facet of your supply chain are continuously interacting and engaging with smart technology. And yes, that technology is developing apace. But we know that. We know it’s booming. It’s not new news.
However, what we’re seeing is a stumbling attempt to really get it in to the real world. Amazon Dash is trying, but how much of the success is coming from the IoT itself? Instead it’s coming from how and where it is used, and ensuring the insight and knowledge it provides is actually analysed and utilised. This is within the context that the IoT provides an enormous amount of data for even the best machines to sift through and make sense of. The IoT could in fact create too much data, too much insight, that it effectively is its own Achilles heel.
This one really encompasses the IoT. It embraces the trend towards greater automation and the exchange of data within manufacturing and supply chains. However, here might be the problem – it simply tries to cover too much. It’s a buzzword which many fail to pin down because it can apply pretty much to anything from the IoT to the cloud, to artificial intelligence (AI) to computer-based physical symptoms. It’s probably easier to define what’s not encompassed within Industry 4.0.
However, as a concept, we don’t want to write it off just yet because it does provide us with a way of discussing the seismic shift in supply chain management. The supply chain planning is changing to one which is demand led not supply driven – that’s only happening because of all the tiny facets which come together to create Industry 4.0, with its love of transparency. It’s just got a marketing turn of phrase on it.
Digitisation is the underdog of the buzzwords because it doesn’t quite have that marketing flair we see in the IoT and Industry 4.0. However, arguably this is the one to watch and use. Nothing in our modern supply chains would be possible without digitisation, least of all planning. It is digitisation which is helping to remove the silos of information which have hindered planning and instead, enable integration and transparency which we need in order to function today, and plan for tomorrow.
At its core, digitisation is about creating the visibility we really need at the ground level, and in the board room. With just-in-time deliveries being the holy grail of supply chains worldwide, we need that digital insight. With digitisation, this goes beyond your own four business walls and looks outwards to suppliers, customers, retailers and distributors – insight we never had before.
It also leads us on to another underrated buzzword: collaboration.
If those silos are to be dismantled, you need to collaborate and you need exceptional relationships. Supply chains are no longer a linear connection of links, but instead a network of hubs. No area exists in isolation. Collaboration enables you to flex and respond to changes and challenges.
Collaboration really needs a marketing spin to jazz it up because it is absolutely imperative to supply chain management. Perhaps the most notable point of this is with our IT planning systems and how they are applied and used within planning. In the way that we’ve seen a shift to 3PL in logistics, IT systems for supply chain planning (and their associated software) require intense collaboration with specialists. With the cloud, there’s really no reason why this shouldn’t be happening.
This one is rolled out at conferences and events globally but really, it’s had its day. Yes, we know that supply chain management has radically changed over recent years, but as with Industry 4.0 it’s not new news anymore. More importantly, it’s not over, and never will be. Of course, the supply chain planning industry is transforming, and if it didn’t continue to do so we’d be worried. But it doesn’t really need pointing out. It’s a fact, a given, and something which will happen anyway whether or not it’s got a term to label it with.
Where the phrase ‘transformation’ goes really wrong is that is supposes that it’s a new thing. It’s not. It’s been an ongoing situation in the supply chain since someone invented the wheel to put on the cart to take goods to market. It’s human nature to evolve and develop, and that’s all this is.
The problem with using it as a buzzword is that it supposes that it’s a one-off thing you ‘do’. Yet that is the complete antithesis of transformation. Instead you should be doing it all the time, continually. It doesn’t need a buzzword.
Whatever the Buzzwords, Be Ahead of the Industry
It doesn’t really matter what the buzzwords of the moment are in supply chain management. What matters is that you’re on top of your game and able to respond as needed. If you need help with any aspect of supply chain and logistics management, see what our consultants can do for you by calling +44 (0) 121 517 008.