02 Jun What Does the Future of Supply Chain Management Look Like?
Supply chains around the world have come under strain in the last two years. The COVID pandemic brought product manufacturing and movement to a complete halt. Employees couldn’t work, and stock was stuck at borders or with manufacturers. This considerably impacted the majority of global markets.
As a result, the supply chain has had to adapt. Many supply chain leaders had begun to implement technology into their processes before the pandemic. The complete shutdown of the world only accelerated this transition, as companies had to find new ways to fulfill demand.
However, the pandemic shifted priorities, and supply chain leaders now have new goals for the future of supply chain management. So, what are the priorities for supply chain management of the future, and what does that future look like?
Supply Chain Challenges
As mentioned, the COVID pandemic has been a major challenge for global supply chains. However, there were difficulties prior to the pandemic that remain today. The movement of populations over the last two years, and changes in retail markets have all impacted the supply chain for the future.
Labor Shortages and Industry Migration
The US job market is currently facing a shortage of labor. Positions in a variety of industries are struggling to recruit and retain talented staff. Alongside this, more people are walking out of their jobs than ever before. Workers expect more from their roles, and companies need to be able to deliver in order to retain staff.
As a result, supply chain leaders are struggling to maintain staffing levels. Workers that were previously employed in the industry are looking elsewhere, as concern over COVID’s impact on industries grows.
Supply chain leaders must overcome these labor shortages, or the industry will face a new crisis. New technologies and automation have the potential to ease staffing requirements, but leaders must be quick to adapt.
Market Volatility and Risk Management
Markets in most industries are more volatile than ever. Customer demands increase and decrease quickly, and the newest trends take over.
Not only that, but issues within the supply chain can take effect quickly. The COVID pandemic demonstrated just how important supply chain management is. It’s critical to continually assess risk, and ensure you’re prepared for any eventuality.
Despite this, anomalies like the COVID pandemic cannot be entirely prepared for. Supply chain leaders continually face difficulties in market volatility, and must manage risk where possible.
As markets shift and change, so do the demands on supply chains. Over time, this has led to the over-complication of global supply chains.
More and more elements are added to supply chains, and products need to touch base in multiple areas as they move from manufacture to retail.
This over-complication is, in part, what contributed to the crisis throughout the pandemic. Inventory doesn’t simply go from manufacturer to retailer anymore. The need for custom goods, more distribution channels, and lack of resources made the process increasingly difficult.
The supply chain crisis also contributed to this as available materials couldn’t be transported. As a result, some smartphone releases came to a complete halt.
Shortages mean that product availability is inconsistent, and prices continue to rise. These need to either be offset by the supply chain leaders, or accepted by consumers.
Future Supply Chain Goals
So, how do supply chain leaders propose to tackle challenges in the industry? There are some key goals for the future of supply chain management, to ensure we avoid another supply chain crisis.
Environmental awareness and sustainability are at the top of consumers’ minds, and concern over production processes will continue to grow. Consumers will continue to prefer sustainable companies over those without an environmental presence, so it’s important that supply chain managers demonstrate an interest in the environment.
This might include making changes in the product design process, the location and sourcing of raw materials, the manufacturing process, and the sustainability of logistics.
Many companies have made commitments to be net-zero in the future, which means they will contribute zero carbon emissions through the operation of their business. Net-zero targets are widely publicized, and consumers expect most companies to look at introducing a zero-carbon approach.
Similarly to the sustainability movement, consumers expect more transparency from businesses about their processes. This might relate to the sourcing of raw materials, their carbon footprint, or human rights and legal issues.
For instance, the popularity of fast fashion is beginning to dwindle as consumers are concerned about where products are sourced, and who is making them. Some retail brands have become infamous for human rights issues in factories, and throughout the manufacturing process. This can have a serious impact on business revenue.
Supply chain leaders should look to be more transparent about the supply chain. It’s important that data on the sourcing of raw materials and the operation of the supply chain, from manufacture to delivery, are available to the public. Therefore, it’s important that the supply chain operates with due diligence for legal and humanitarian requirements.
As mentioned, the COVID pandemic demonstrated the need for flexibility in supply chains. Markets can change in an instant, and on a large scale, and supply chains should be able to respond.
This requires more than just reducing production, inventory, or staffing. Supply chain leaders are looking to implement elastic strategies. This means that the supply chain is able to scale up or down unexpectedly, according to market demand.
The latest innovations, including automation and AI, are just some methods decision-makers are implementing in order to prepare for volatile markets. By being adaptable and prepared for change, service is improved and risk to the business is minimized.
A more agile supply chain is required to meet changing market demands. Shipping products thousands of miles around the world is becoming less sustainable, and causes inconvenient delays for both the supplier and the consumer.
Consumers expect goods on demand. Regional sourcing hubs and logistics approaches promise to meet consumer expectations and sustainability targets. Keeping inventory closer to the end-user or retailer ensures that supply can be met, and logistics can be more agile.
Not only are executives looking to be more agile, but social and environmental responsibility will be improved through controlled labor conditions.
The Supply Chain and Technology
As is the case in most industries, supply chain management is going digital. More and more elements of the supply chain can be automated, or carried out more consistently using the latest tech innovations. Not all supply chain managers have implemented technologies, but it will be critical for the scalable supply chain of the future.
Robotics and Automation
Supply chain enterprises consistently look for improvements to current processes, especially repetitive tasks like inventory management. Machines and automated processes have the potential to improve time management, and help ease labor constraints.
It’s estimated that, by 2026, 75% of large enterprises will be utilizing some form of robotics in warehouse processes.
Implementation can be easier than managing a workforce, and allows existing employees to be re-skilled and develop further in their careers. Enterprises will no longer need to staff menial roles, and simple processes become more accurate.
Better described as machine learning, AI systems analyze hoards of data around the supply chain, inventories, and market demands. Ultimately, these systems can comprehend far more data than the average market analyst.
This information can be used to make critical business decisions, which contributes to an agile and elastic supply chain strategy. AI innovations improve market forecasting and risk management.
Regardless of the goals and motivations of the future of supply chain management, it’s clear that technology will play a key role in the transformation. As with most industries in the digital world, the latest tech innovations mean to increase accuracy and remove the risk of the human decision-making element of supply chain management. Supply chain employees will look to focus on tasks that require personal input, focusing on sustainability and humanitarian causes, and improving the experience for the end-user.