The ground continues to shift beneath the feet of supply chain professionals. In an era of constant disruption, rapid digitization and growing consumer demands, the old ways of managing supply chains are nowhere near enough. That's where the Supply Chain Trends for 2024 come in. This carefully curated list unveils the key forces shaping the future of supply chains for the next 12 months. From harnessing the power of data and AI to building agile and resilient networks, these trends are not just predictions, but imperatives for supply chain success:
Digitization in Supply Chain
Converting data from a physical to a digital format enables the internet of things, artificial intelligence, blockchain and smart contracts, cloud-based solutions, and countless other emerging technologies that rely on high-quality digital inputs. In the coming year, more supply chain organizations will transform their networks into connected, intelligent, scalable, customizable and nimble digital ecosystems. Some will achieve holistic digital transformation, while others will advance more slowly by balancing long-term investment in automation with the immediate implementation of solutions that reduce repetitive tasks and cognitive fatigue while allowing employees to focus on areas where humans perform better than machines.
Supply Chain Big data and analytics
Through supply chain big data and analytics, organizations will more easily identify inefficiencies, reduce costs, improve customer service, and strengthen resilience and agility to cope with frequent disruption. Applications include using standardized freight data exchange to deliver operational efficiencies, optimize routes and port planning, and reduce emissions and costs; sales and marketing data to better predict demand, enhance inventory management practices and improve the customer experience; data from sensors and digital twins to identify potential problems, advance predictive maintenance and optimize product performance. To maximize the potential of big data and analytics, supply chains must prioritize data exchange and information-sharing.
Supply Chain Artificial Intelligence
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are happening at an unprecedented rate and offering numerous immediate returns — particularly in the areas of intelligent sourcing, inventory management and logistical route-planning. Cobots drive warehousing efficiency through picking and packing, loading and unloading, and moving heavy objects; computer vision supports defect detection and object recognition; robotics enable safer assembly and welding; and augmented reality advances training, maintenance and quality control. Meanwhile, machine learning (ML), a subset of AI that allows computers to learn without being explicitly programmed, will be used to make predictions and decisions about demand forecasting, quality control, new product development and much more.
Investment in systems and people
By 2026, the global supply chain management application market is expected to reach almost $31 billion. As the adoption of supply chain tech escalates, it will continue bringing about key insights from enhanced automation, internet-of-things data, blockchain, supply-chain-as-a-service, cloud-based solutions and more. These technologies are optimizing networks, supporting sustainability, improving partner collaboration, enhancing visibility, and helping organizations become more flexible and agile. In 2024, essential investments in people through training and development on the latest tech will create a culture of innovation and encourage employees to share ideas that lead to real supply chain success.
Visibility, traceability and location intelligence
Supply chain visibility and traceability enable organizations to track the movement of goods and materials through every tier of the supply chain — from product origin through its various stages to final destination. As a result, stakeholders will enjoy greater access to near-real-time data related to orders, inventory, delivery and potential disruptions. At the same time, location intelligence will help provide essential context about the current state of their networks. This, combined with AI — and its subset, ML — has the potential to significantly improve the prediction of future conditions based on past delays, traffic and weather patterns, port and highway bottlenecks, and so on.
Disruption and risk management
Supply chain disruption is now the norm, with continued congestion of transportation and logistics infrastructure, geopolitical shifts, natural disasters and extreme weather, raw material shortages, a global pandemic — the list goes on. Instead of addressing issues as they arise, organizations are learning how to constantly prepare for disruption through effective risk management. This involves identifying and assessing both internal and external risks; developing mitigation strategies, such as diversifying suppliers, building up inventory and improving visibility; testing and rehearsing plans to identify any gaps and make necessary adjustments; communicating with stakeholders about risk management; and continually monitoring and updating plans to ensure they’re always up-to-date and effective.
Agility and resilience
Our consumer-centric world requires a different type of supply chain — one that’s able to predict, prepare and respond to rapidly evolving demand and product and channel mix. As such, supply chain agility will require new capabilities and tools, including machines capable of faster changeovers and handling a wider range of products and shipment types, collaborative robots, smart packaging, and others. Skilled, flexible workforces will be essential, as more humans program and work alongside these advanced technologies and cross-functional teams collaborate to solve problems in short, incremental sprints. All of this will foster supply chain resilience, a 2024 strategic priority that must be embedded with digitization, optimization, sustainability and talent development.
Modern supply chains are global, and so are the threats they face. Cybercriminals are not bound by geography and can target any entry or access point in the supply chain, driving the need for cybersecurity to be a core part of digital and intelligent networks. An alarming increase in cybercrime is likely to continue, leading to more data breaches, delays and shortages, reputational damage, compliance issues, safety risks, and financial loss. Supply chain professionals must safeguard their networks by staying up-to-date on best practices; using a risk-based approach to cybersecurity; and investing in cybersecurity solutions, training and awareness.
Green and circular supply chains
Many supply chain organizations have set ambitious goals to become carbon neutral and achieve net-zero waste and water objectives in the near future. At the same time, increasing pressure from consumers, employees, investors, governments and regulators will compel others to carefully consider the sustainability of their future operations. To achieve green and circular supply chains, organizations must ensure change can take root across the end-to-end value chain. This will involve partner collaboration, implementation of the right tech, educating employees, setting clear tracking targets, measuring impact, identifying areas for improvement, and reporting on progress in order to be held accountable.
Geopolitics and the deglobalization of supply chains
Geopolitical conflicts including the Russia-Ukraine war, economic and technological competition and related security concerns, and the need for countries to mitigate the effects of climate change all will continue to cause supply chain disruption. As a result, more regional supply chains will turn to simpler networks through nearshoring and friend-shoring, which are based on models of trust between nations that tend to share similar values and beliefs. This deglobalization may result in improved security and resilience; however, it’s also likely to raise prices, limit choice and reduce innovation due to smaller market sizes.
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