Trends in Supply Chain

Last year I got asked to present to a group of MBA students studying supply chain. The topic for the discussion was ‘Trends in Supply Chain’ with the idea to show the students how technology was being deployed inside of real-life situations.

I jumped at this opportunity, who doesn’t want to have an influence on future leaders of our industry? The content was something I am passionate about, so I began putting together everything I felt was important for what supply chain 4.0 looked like…

After a few hours of toiling away and trying to show how much I knew about AI, Blockchain, IoT and big data, I sat back and thought ‘is all this talk about our industry being so archaic accurate?’

The promise of new technology to fundamentally change the industry is a great talking point but are we that backward that there has been no ‘evolution’ (remember this word it is really important).

Let’s first look at the facts and also pay homage to those who have innovated before us. If you are a company that sells items, no matter what they are, or where they need to be, you use the same old means of getting them to their respective markets. That’s right, you use a ship, a plane, trucks, rail, barge, and cars to get them in the hands of someone that will pay you for them.

These modes of transport have evolved over time to be sure, but they are still more or less the same means.
People have thought deeply about the challenges of a complex supply chain and have over time come up with some really cool solutions. The advent of containerised freight was the consequence of someone seeing a problem and coming up with a solution (and yes still very much used today).

So here I was in a quandary, I’d been asked to talk about trends but when I thought deeply about a trend I started conquering images of a yoyo, the hula hoop, really bad 80’s fashion, mullet haircuts, the perm and let us not forget acid wash jeans.

In the 20 years I have been consulting and engineering supply chains to big and small businesses, I have never advised a customer to change something because it was a trend. We are really trying to build robust supply chains through well thought out and executed repetitive behaviours, These sorts of thought processes have been around a lot longer than any of the technologies I mentioned earlier.

So back to why I now hate the word trend as it relates to supply chains. Really what we are seeing today is the ‘evolution’ of what has come before us. We are still using the same modes to move goods, we are still applying the same ideas around what we want out of our supply chains.

Just like Malcolm Mclean sitting around thinking about better ways of moving goods on ships, the new Malcolm Mcleans are thinking about using all of the tools at our disposal today and looking for ways of getting product to market more effectively.

The technology coming into this amazing industry (an industry that is very much overlooked) is amazing. I am in the fortunate position where I get to speak with founders and CEO’s of some of the most advanced technology companies in the word. I have seen the power of Blockchain, had first hand experience of what AI can do to simple clerical processes and how using and uncovering data inside of a supply chain can positively impact a company.

However, when it’s all said and done, we move freight. Lets just not forget that we were not the first people to ever do this.

— Simon Borg, Group CEO