A few weeks ago, Alloy had the opportunity to attend and exhibit at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Fresh off the excitement of announcing our Series A funding, we were looking forward to the opportunity to hear the latest best practices and innovations happening in our industry.
I personally always find it fascinating that, despite the fact that supply chains have been in existence for hundreds of years, the technology and processes that support them are constantly evolving. In this industry, if you’re still doing things the same way you were ten years ago, chances are you’re falling behind the competition. With that in mind, below are three key points that I took away from the conference about the future of supply chains.
1. We need a more technical workforce
Employees across all industries have become — and are becoming — more technically savvy. The supply chain world is no exception; in fact, people in our industry often need more advanced technical skills compared to the average businessperson. However, to stay on the cutting edge, the supply chain workforce needs to continue pushing forward. In their opening keynote, Gartner VPs Ken Chadwick and Dana Stiffler explained that “technical skills” in supply chain now mean capabilities like data analytics and SQL, and ideally even machine learning and artificial intelligence. They shared that, since 2014, there’s been a 60% growth in the technology skills needed for non-IT roles.
While this information might seem surprising at first, it makes perfect sense to us at Alloy, because we’ve seen first-hand the value that a technology-driven mindset can bring to supply chain managers. Supply chains contain a wealth of useful data points, but technologies like data cleaning, machine learning algorithms, and others must be used to extract the full value. Luckily, there are tools available that can do much of this heavy lifting for you. But it takes a technology-first perspective to embrace this way of working.
2. Blockchain: understood, but not utilized
Speaking of technology, another interesting point from the conference was that, while the concept of blockchain is better understood now by supply chain teams than previously, it’s still largely unused. Unlike data analytics and IoT, which have practically become standard, blockchain remains a bit of an unknown. The benefits of blockchain are widely understood, but there hasn’t yet been a clear use case for how to best implement the technology in supply chains. This is likely to change in the coming years, as pilot projects involving blockchain abound. But for now, this is an area that remains largely exploratory — according to a presentation at the conference, 90% of all blockchain projects through 2020 will be proof-of-concept initiatives.
3. Control towers and the failure to communicate
The conference made clear that, while control towers are catching on in supply chain, a lack of standardization has been a major sticking point. After all, a control tower is only as effective as the amount of data it’s fed, and when system incompatibilities prevent data from flowing, this reduces the control tower’s benefit.
This inconsistency is an issue that we’re quite familiar with at Alloy. The process of smoothly ingesting data from a retailer or 3PL into your own systems can be daunting, and the number of integrations and connections required is dizzying. That’s why a large part of the work for our clients is successfully wrangling all relevant data into a usable format. It’s our hope for the future that all parties in a supply chain embrace stronger communication practices, because in the end, data-driven operations benefit everyone.
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A promising horizon
Overall, one of the most energizing takeaways from the conference was that this is a bright moment for the supply chain industry. Supply chain’s seat at the table is growing as organizations increasingly wake up to its importance in delivering a superior experience for customers. It’s becoming ever-clearer that, far from a stodgy logistics puzzle, supply chain is an area on the frontlines of innovation, full of opportunities for optimization and revenue generation. The industry seems poised for a bright future, as one survey shared at the conference found people ages 16–25 have a much more positive reaction to the term “supply chain” than any other age group. It’s an exciting time to be in supply chain!