The pandemic has caused a great deal of suffering to many people. More than ever, the crisis made the general public aware of the importance of supply chain management. In the beginning, many realized that supply chain disruptions can create problems with supplies of food, face masks, and medicine. Later, many recognized the importance of functioning SCM for vaccine distribution. Most importantly, the crisis teaches us that we have to leave outdated narratives behind. Much has been questioned, many new ideas have emerged. This crisis could therefore turn into an opportunity for the necessary societal transformation. It might just be a foretaste of the much more existential crises that lie ahead. If lockdowns and vaccinations are answers to the pandemic, then the answers to the climate and biodiversity crises are what? Many of these answers might be found in our global supply chains. Identifying them could be an important leadership opportunity for SCM in 2021. Now is the time for the SCM community to positively shape the future!
When I made my predictions last year, the first one being about new technologies, the second one related to our planetary boundaries, I certainly underestimated the pace of these developments.
The first prediction has now already materialized in many companies across the globe. More and more supply chain managers I have talked to have implemented innovative solutions, such as robotic process automation and process mining. What I can also see are more and more business models that rely on machine learning.
The second prediction came true in an oppressive way: Europe was hit by an unprecedented heat wave, Southern Africa by a terrifying drought. The Amazon – on fire. Siberia – on fire. And now? Australia is on fire; it is estimated that, so far, at least 480,000,000 mammals, birds and reptiles were killed. This is not a Mad Max movie; the world is in climate crisis. Political leadership is lacking from some of those countries with the highest per-capita emissions, including the U.S. and, tragically, Australia. What gives hope is the emergence of a global climate movement.
Instead of just repeating my predictions from last year, I would like to recommend three books related to these topics (see link). Visionary companies and courageous supply chain managers don’t look back, they don’t waste time with 20th-century business models. They look forward and are part of an exciting journey that shapes a digital, post-carbon economy. They will turn challenges into first-mover advantages and create great business opportunities. Isn’t this what SCM is all about?
I wish you a good start into the new year!
“Accelerating technology and automation are resulting in wholesale transformation of the supply chain profession.” This is the key message of EY’s new report, titled Supply Chain: Skills for the Digital Era. It is not long, but definitely a good read. The report states that “[p]rocesses with repeatable elements such as planning, monitoring and forecasting can all be automated and enhanced by robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics”. The authors observe that this leads to a transformation of supply chain management: “Where performance improvement in the past may have focused on the optimisation of individual operational areas, it now needs to harness a broader view that understands, for example, how supply chain impacts on profitability.” The report ends by identifying four future personas for the supply chain, based on their mindset (data-driven vs. vision-led) and style (investigative vs. collaborative): There are technologists, orchestrators, analysts and innovators. Does our research and teaching cover all of them?
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!
Today I present my personal predictions for supply chain management in 2018. Sustainability and digitization will certainly top the SCM agenda! First, much more action is needed to combat global warming. SCM could play a key role to cope with this challenge, as a “supply chain” rather than “company” perspective helps to understand that upstream greenhouse gas emissions may occur anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, time is slowly running out! New technologies like blockchain, ID systems like bluenumber and standards like ISO 24000 could help us make a breakthrough. Second, we might see increased momentum to move beyond the machine learning hype. Machine learning could soon be integrated in all kinds of value-creating processes. But while IT giants like Google, Amazon and SAP highlight the strengths and opportunities of such technologies, we should also take the weaknesses and threats into consideration: Will robots take our children’s jobs? And what does all this mean for SCM? 2018 will bring some more questions and hopefully even more answers.
Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Supply Chains (Guest Post by Wolfgang Lehmacher, Forum)
My guest post today comes from Wolfgang Lehmacher, who presents a white paper prepared by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with BVL International.
The report, titled Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Supply Chains, provides preliminary considerations for Fourth Industrial Revolution-driven supply chains. Based on the impact on supply chains of advanced technologies, in particular the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, enterprise wearables and additive manufacturing, the report highlights seven areas of focus for business and government: new roles and responsibilities, supply chain performance, agile organizations, ecosystem for skilling, support for SMEs, leadership and neutral platforms. The Fourth Industrial Revolution changes the way in which we produce and manage the supply chain, and paves the way for the creation of new value chains. The following developments are expected to play a major role in this process going forward: Open innovation, i.e. greater openness of companies towards involving both other companies and their customers in innovation and development processes, distributed manufacturing as an approach to the comprehensive decentralization of production structures and the elimination of classic manufacturing paradigms, and new collaboration models between companies, primarily horizontally, but also vertically.
Wolfgang Lehmacher is Head of Supply Chain and Transport Industries at the World Economic Forum. During his career he was Partner and Managing Director (China and India) at the global strategy firm CVA and President and CEO of GeoPost Intercontinental. He is member of the IATA Air Cargo Innovation Awards Jury and the Logistikweisen, a think tank under the patronage of the German Federal Ministry BMVI. He is FT, Forbes, Fortune, BI contributor and author of books, including The Global Supply Chain – 2017 and How Logistics Shapes Our Lives – 2013 (German).
My guest post today comes from Kai Hoberg from the Kühne Logistics University (KLU) in Hamburg. Together with his co-authors, Alan McKinnon and Christoph Flöthmann, he has just published a new report, which is commissioned by the World Bank and analyzes the shortage of qualified logistics personnel.
Qualified logistics personnel is in short supply worldwide. This is the conclusion of our new report, titled Logistics Competencies, Skills, and Training: A Global Overview. While there are too few well-trained executives in the logistics sector in emerging countries, there is an acute shortage of qualified staff at the operational level in developed economies. We argue that this skills shortage is likely to worsen in the absence of new initiatives. There are two aspects that deserve further elaboration: First, physically, there are too few people available to cover vacant position in the logistics sector. Second, the currently employed workforce is partially lacking the skills demanded for their job. Based on an empirical analysis, we derive multiple recommendations for relevant stakeholders, i.e. companies, governmental institutions and logistics associations. The proposed measures include innovative training methods like logistics-related business games that can be employed without requiring high upfront investments or long implementation lead-times.
Kai Hoberg is Associate Professor of Supply Chain & Operations Strategy at KLU. In his academic career he was a visiting scholar at Cornell University, Israel Institute of Technology, University of Oxford and National University of Singapore. He is on the scientific advisory board of the German Logistics Association (BVL) and has been working with companies like Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Company, Jungheinrich and Zalando on supply chain innovation projects.
It is among the common research practices in our field to build a statistical model with a limited set of variables in order to take the lens of a theory – often being alien to our field – on a supply chain phenomenon, and to test this model based on maybe 200 datasets. Other researchers collect data from three or four case companies to build or extend a research model that comprises a small set of propositions. So far so good. “So far so outdated”, I should say if I were to be malicious. Why? Researchers in fields like supply chain management might soon (or already?) be competing with “companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, [that] don’t have to settle for wrong models”, as the editor in chief of Wired put it already back in 2008, proclaiming The End of Theory. So, is the data deluge about to make our research obsolete? If so, how should our community adapt to this new reality?