The 20th century was dominated by an analog, linear and fossil economy, but we are about to shift to an economy that is digital, circular and post-fossil. It seems obvious that our discipline, to remain relevant, needs to drive this transition rather than clutching at obsolete managerial practices and theoretical perspectives. Those who participate in developing new business models will gain a first-mover advantage, while those trying to keep the 20th-century economy alive will soon be forced out of business.
My personal predictions for 2019 relate to these transitions. First, robotic process automation and process mining are increasingly shaping the way of modern business. This will have a tremendous influence on end-to-end business processes. Great chances are within our reach, as learning machines are taking over increasingly complex tasks from white-collar workers. But we should not overlook the danger of a small number of IT giants using their scripts to centrally control the majority of our global supply chain processes.
Second, we sometimes seem to assume that we can change the laws of nature, just like other laws. This becomes clearer when moving into the anthropocene epoch. But planetary boundaries, including the Earth’s carbon budget, cannot be negotiated or abolished like budgets in business. We simply have to accept that exponential growth and a capped number of planets – and this number is 1 – do not fit well together. One does not need to be good in math to understand that if we cannot change the number of planets, it will have to be our supply chains that will need a radical and ambitious transformation. But how can we achieve degrowth and decarbonization in our supply chains? We could shift from linear supply chains to circular ones, from selling products to selling services (e.g. the right to use instead of owning a phone), from consumer orientation to user orientation. Thus, SCM theory needs to shift away from the “consumer” of things they don’t need towards the “user” of limited resources. This would incentivize producers to keep resources in the loop instead of building products for the scrap yard.
Millennials are not primarily driven by income, but by doing something meaningful. They are scared by the climate crisis. My wish for 2019 is that we all start teaching them that they can be part of an exciting journey that could simultaneously save our planet and create income and wealth. Let us hope the best for 2019 and beyond!
The circular economy is gathering momentum: In the future this model could, for example, mean that smartphones will not be sold and consumed anymore, but companies like Apple and Samsung will then keep scarce resources and sell a smartphone service to users instead of a product to consumers. These users will then be required to bring back the phone after a specified amount of time. California Management Review has now published a special issue on the circular economy. Several of the articles of that special issue refer to supply chains and supply chain management; and several of the authors have published in SCM journals before. This indicates that “supply chain thinking” and “circular thinking” are increasingly stimulating each other. I would even go so far to say that the 21st century’s supply chain management has to shift from linear to circular. This also has implications for our research. What we might need to re-think is whether the “chain” in “supply chain management” is still the right expression.