Supply chain technology: Linking to the future

A healthy supply chain relies on constant communication and transparency. Shippers, receivers, drivers, and third-party logistics companies must work together to ensure maximum efficiency. Thankfully, working together with every link in the chain is easier than ever before thanks to advancements in supply chain technology. 

Logistics networks are at the forefront of implementing this technology. In a world full of growing transportation companies, many are setting themselves apart from the competition by planting themselves firmly in the middle of the supply chain technological revolution. A recent Gartner survey shows that 61% of business owners believe that technology is a competitive advantage. Advanced management systems, GPS tracking, cloud-based solutions, and artificial intelligence are excellent tools for increasing communication and transparency. 

Management Systems

One of the most common technological innovations in the supply chain industry is the use of supply chain management software (SCM). In the past, each link of the chain was solely responsible for its own interactions or problems that may arise. Advanced management software has made that a thing of the past. Technological improvements have led to an interconnected system that works together to keep it all moving. 

Enhanced visibility throughout the supply chain process is the chief advantage of an SCM. SCM software provides a central view of important stages, such as the materials needed for manufacturing, a list of contacts involved with the order, product data, and much more. Logistics professionals then share this information across the platform for increased transparency, ensuring that all data is available for the parties involved. When everyone is updated and aware of possible issues, they can address those issues immediately from anywhere in the supply chain.

Management systems can communicate across platforms thanks to advancements in cloud computing. Cloud-based programs can run off an internet browser instead of downloading the software. This gives the user the freedom to access data any time and anywhere, and to collaborate on time-sensitive projects. Put simply, the cloud is the brain of SCMs. It will only play a more critical part in supply chain technology in the coming years.

Integration of this software will lead to significant advantages. Cloud-based programs are quickly overtaking the industry, and many future management platforms will rely on the cloud for their operations. Supply chain companies position themselves for future improvements if they stay on the cutting-edge of cloud technology.

Top-rated SCM platforms

  • SAP SCM: SAP software gives multinational businesses a one-stop solution for production, data sharing, and forecasting. SAP also boasts a top-of-the-line tracking service.
  • Blue Yonder: Blue Yonder provides extensive warehouse management tools for increased efficiency and profit. It is also excellent for data forecasting and problem solving.
  • Oracle SCM: Oracle’s biggest advantage is its utilization of cloud-based technology and solutions. Oracle focuses heavily on automation and artificial intelligence to provide real-time feedback.
  • Infor SCM: Infor SCM boasts impressive visibility and transparency features, such as forecasting, instant communication across platforms, and cloud capabilities.
  • Manhattan Associates: Manhattan offers extensive warehouse management tools and transportation forecasts to provide maximum control over production and transportation.
  • Descartes SCM: Descartes uses AI to streamline warehousing, shipping, and production. Descartes’ solutions programs integrate well with many other platforms.

GPS as supply chain technology

GPS tracking may be one of the most useful and widely adopted technological improvements over the past couple of decades. This technology is not new. Navigation apps, location services, and weather updates have been heavily integrated into society. It has become so prevalent in everyday life that it’s easy to forget how important the service truly is to the supply chain industry.

When thinking of GPS tracking, the first thing that comes to mind is tracking a truck and driver from pickup to delivery. Phone apps such TruckerTools and Macropoint allow drivers to share their real-time location with their dispatcher, a broker, or the customer. Integrated ELD tracking on certain trailers provides instant updates to an SCM. This type of clarity gives everyone a chance to anticipate delays or communicate shipping updates immediately. It also gives the driver freedom to focus on driving instead of needing to provide updates, which makes the driver safer. 

GPS technology can also improve efficiency in warehouses. Many manufacturers that produce large equipment or operate heavy machinery have to to track people, tools, and equipment at all times. In the past, warehouse crews used sign-in sheets or inventory paperwork to keep track of everything. GPS eliminates the need for individual accountability, as it easily keeps track of every asset at all times. It can then be integrated with an SCM for easily accessible data in a centralized location.

Robotics’ role in supply chain technology

The warehousing sector may be one of the first to integrate robotics into its everyday operations. Experts estimate that at least 75% of large enterprises will adopt automated robotics by 2026 to streamline the manufacturing and shipping process. Labor shortages fast-tracked these improvements, which will likely replace a grand majority of the human workforce in warehouses.

For those workers that it does not replace, robotics will serve to assist in everyday operations hand-in-hand with the human workforce. Either way, experts say automation will increase significantly as labor becomes more difficult to recruit. 

Artificial Intelligence

SCMs will also receive an upgrade in coming years. 75% of commercial supply chain management systems will contain embedded analytics that artificial intelligence (AI) will manage. AI will be capable of compiling data for easily constructed reports that increase efficiency and spotlight trouble areas. AI will also be able to compute the best routes for transportation, automatically send location updates, and categorize all incoming or outbound inventory. 

Although relatively unknown and underutilized, digital supply chain twins and control towers will play a big role in automated processes. Supply chain twins are digital projections that allow users to experiment with different scenarios in the environment. For example, this technology can examine how natural disasters, rising fuel costs, or traffic accidents will impact a shipment.

On the other hand, digital control towers answer questions that the twin poses. They provide end-to-end transparency so that logistics professionals can immediately address all problems that may arise. If used separately, only half the problem can be solved or mediated. When used together, users can rest assured that they are prepared for any problem that may arise, and they can quickly get to work on the issue. 

Looking ahead

As referenced earlier, 61% of business owners state that technology will give their businesses a competitive advantage. Whether the other 39% know it or not, technology will continue to become an integral piece of the supply chain over the next few years. Increased reliance on automation, AI, and management systems is just over the horizon. Those who implement these advancements will be at the forefront of one of the largest technological movements in the industry’s history.  So, it isn’t a matter of “if” technology will become more of an integral piece of the supply chain, it’s a matter of “when.”

The transportation industry is massively important to the U.S. economy, so it’s no wonder that logistics companies are flocking to advanced supply chain technology to gain a competitive advantage. Improved visibility, data sharing, tracking, and automation will become paramount to continued success in the transportation industry. Many have already jumped on the bandwagon. As a result, they are well-positioned to excel in the future of the supply chain. Logistics will continue to rely on evolving technology as demand continues to increase.

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