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Gaining Visibility into 2017: 3 Defining Trends for the Supply Chain Industry

Gaining Visibility into 2017: 3 Defining Trends for the Supply Chain Industry


by Ryan Goh, Vice President & General Manager, Sales, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

As we come to the end of 2016, it is worth taking stock of the technological bounds forward that have been achieved. Giant strides have been made in autonomous vehicles, machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities, robotics, the 5G wireless network, and the sheer number of devices connected to the internet.

It is perhaps enterprises, not least of those in the supply chain industry, which will benefit most from these technological achievements as they set in motion industry trends that look to dominate 2017. Zebra Technologies foresees an exciting year ahead, driven by trends such as the evolution of wearable technology, smart tags, 3D barcodes, smart sensing, autonomous systems, machine learning, the use of virtual assistants with natural language capabilities, and even the use of virtual reality and augmented reality.

Here are some of the most exciting possibilities for the industry, as we move into the new year.

Visibility of assets, people, and transactions – or the lack thereof – will have an increasingly large impact on businesses

With the use of barcodes and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, “things” are given digital voices. Gartner estimates that there will be 6.4 billion connected “things” in use worldwide by 2016, up 30 per cent from 2015, with the number set to reach 20.8 billion in 2020. Businesses, especially those in the transportation and logistics (T&L) sector, are increasingly aware of the benefits of tracking assets, which is driven by data capture devices such as barcode imagers, RFID readers, and beacons. With the ability to translate printed code and patterns into decipherable data and text, such devices will see rising demand in response to enterprises’ growing appetite for data and the real-time insights and analytics they enable.

While operational visibility is invaluable, it is imperative that organisations have a handle on the performance and health of the fleet of devices that make this visibility possible. Research from Zebra has shown that a single device failure can result in up to 80 minutes of lost productivity; multiply that risk by the multitude of devices most businesses employ today, and losses can be catastrophic. Failure of any device will have a direct impact on productivity, possibly impacting customer satisfaction, and ultimately the business’s bottom line, which is why comprehensive management platforms will be increasingly important in 2017.

Robotics, artificial intelligence, and automation technologies gear up to tackle supply-chain issues

IDC recently highlighted robotics technology as one of six innovation accelerators, opening up new revenue streams, changing the way work is performed, and driving digital transformation. It also forecasts that global spend on robotics and related services will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17 per cent going from over US$71bn in 2015 to US$135.4bn in 2019.

Indeed, Amazon and DHL have started using robots in warehouses; these robots are capable of lifting and shifting goods, as well as bringing them to workers who can then pick and pack the items. As warehouses grow ever larger, this saves workers the labor and time required to run along the aisles – hand-picking items that require shipping, increasing productivity tremendously and saving the business time and money.

Organisations will look to adopt more automated form factors in the years to come. These include roving robotic devices or flying drones that can read barcodes or RFID tags with little to no human intervention. The Zebra Warehouse Vision Study indicated that approximately 70 per cent of decision makers expect to accelerate warehouse technology investments, citing heightened customer expectations as the impetus for the need to improve fulfilment accuracy, reduce outof- stock situations, and shorten delivery times.

Omni-channel retail usurps e-commerce’s crown, but brings new challenges

As a result of the accelerating popularity and adoption of e-commerce – and more recently – the click-and-collect retail business model, brick-and-mortar stores are under tremendous sales pressure, making it necessary for them to shift their business online. Almost counterintuitively, however, online retailers are opening physical store fronts. The most recent example of this would be Amazon’s move into the physical retail space with its Amazon Go concept store, which allows customers to enter the store with the use of an app, select the products they want, and walk out without having to queue at checkout counters.

However, supply chain challenges remain or are even amplified in omni-channel scenarios. For one, a lack of inventory visibility makes it difficult for businesses to anticipate or meet abrupt surges in demand. With the need to better track stock for both physical and online stores, as well as predict demand across the entire supply chain, supply chains for omni-channel is increasing exponentially in size and complexity. For another, the T&L industry needs to meet customer demand for next-day, same-day or even next-hour delivery even as online orders intensify. As such, RFID will continue to grow in importance as the underpinning of omni-channel retail, giving businesses the visibility to see their inventory in real-time to help them achieve flawless fulfilment.

About the Author

Ryan Goh joined Zebra in 2006 as the Director of Sales for Asia Pacific. He was appointed Vice President of Sales and General Manager, Asia Pacific, Zebra Technologies, in 2015, and leads and directs the Asia Pacific sales teams. His role involves developing strategic directions and alignment of sales activities and contributions of Sales and System Engineer professionals to achieve the company business objectives.

With more than 15 years of experience in the field, Ryan helped to grow Zebra’s Asia Pacific business, increasing its revenue from eight per cent of the total global revenue in 2007 to 14.5 per cent in 2011. He also rolled out Zebra’s awardwinning PartnerFirst programme in Asia Pacific, which achieved a 5-star rating from VARBusiness, a leading magazine covering strategy and technology trends for solution providers and technology integrators.