Three Supply Chain Trends to Watch in 2018

By Tan Aik Jin (AJ), Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

From massive shifts towards digitalisation to the rapid advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), 2017 was replete with new developments. While 2018 is well underway, the journey ahead looks equally, if not more, exciting. Amid this progress, one observation clearly stood out – organizations and enterprises want, and need, increased visibility into their operations to gain actionable insights.

As supply chains continue their digital transformations and become more intelligent, here are key trends we can expect supply chains to pick up this year:

  1. Embrace the “on-demand” economy by leveraging the ‘3As’ – Analytics, Automation, and Artificial Intelligence

Against the backdrop of the on-demand economy, supply chains are struggling to adapt to changing fulfilment models – which enables customers to get more of what they want, when they want it, and how they want it delivered. As a result, supply chains are being challenged to re-think how they run their daily operations, such as how to better manage their inventory levels and anticipate operational needs in near real-time processing capabilities.

As a result, accelerating technology deployments to gain visibility of assets, people, and products to understand specific demands is key. Because of this, there is a strong need to modernize the operational and operating procedures of current supply chains by leveraging the ‘3As’ – analytics, automation, and Artificial Intelligence.

The “3As” will help businesses navigate their operations in real-time to meet the emerging needs of customers. They will be critical in helping supply chains provide more granular and detailed tracking and tracing of people, process, and assets, as well as more compelling and personalized customer experiences. As new technologies such as AI and automation continue to grow, 2018 will be all about how businesses can utilize that data intelligently to generate real-time insights that can pre-empt and drive business value.

  1. Rely on critical, real-time data and analytics software to gain visibility for the best next action

The world has become more and more data-driven – businesses rely on real-time data to run their operations efficiently and beat the competition. With data becoming more of a requirement, supply chains have shown a willingness to invest in their own systems to take advantage of better and faster data.

We see this trend showing itself in a number of ways: the continuing growth of 2D barcode technologies, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for faster and easier identification of assets, Real Time Locationing Systems (RTLS) to track assets, and innovative integrated solutions with new data capture technologies combined with integrated advanced analytics software.

An example of a smart supply chain solution that takes data capture to the next level and integrates it with analytics is Zebra’s SmartPack, which uses cutting-edge 3D vision sensors with powerful software to track trailer loading efficiency in real-time, allowing maximum levels of efficiency in transport applications.

  1. Optimize locationing technology for better visibility into smart decision-making

Real-time Locationing Systems (RTLS) are key to providing effective tracking data with higher accuracy to perform advanced/predictive analytics, which in turn helps businesses gain more visibility into their operations. According to Zebra’s recent Manufacturing Vision Study, manufacturers are recognizing the value of real-time location tracking technologies and will expand their level of usage from 38 percent to 61 percent by 2022.

Over 55 percent of companies will implement RTLS by 2022, providing the much-needed transparency across their supply chain operations. RTLS allow supply chains to collect critical data about assets, including location, stage, and condition. Today, only 8 percent of manufacturers have real-time monitoring in place throughout the entire manufacturing floor, but this number will soar to 35 percent by 2022.

Supply chains have started leveraging ties between the physical and digital worlds to enhance visibility and mobilize actionable insights that create better customer experiences, drive operational efficiencies and enable new business models. Some are still in the middle of the transformation, but 2018 will be the year they begin aggressively deploying solutions.

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