Few of us know too much about logistics and supply chain management yet we rely on the field almost every single day. That is truly not an understatement. Eric Levenson at The Atlantic was one of the first to publicize the real gravity of supply chains when he revealed ten fascinating facts about the shipping industry. According to one factoid, there are approximately 20 million shipping containers circulating around the world at any given time. Some of the other highlights were equally as shocking. Interested readers can easily digest a whole slew of similar facts thanks Rose George’s book, Ninety Percent of Everything, which chronicles her extended journey with different shipping crews.
The shipping industry is only one component of an even larger global supply chain network. Understanding its complexity requires a brief history lesson. Fortunately, authors at Georgia Tech’s Supply Chain & Logistics Institute already shared the evolution of supply chains and logistics. The discipline can be traced back to the early 18th-century when Frederick Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management. Flash-forward to the 1940s and 1950s and the field was focused on mechanization to improve labor-intensive processes. The infusion of computational power was the most disruptive change by far. Examples include enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) software. Those were only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Newer technologies are having a bigger impact. Gartner’s contributing writer, Christy Pettey, drew attention to the top 8 supply chain technology trends for 2018. “AI, IoT, advanced analytics and blockchain are some of the trends driving competitive advantage for supply chains,” she explained. The sheer size and complexity of the global marketplace coupled with rising expectations from prime consumers have pushed supply chain and logistics to the brink. Utilizing emerging technologies is likely the only way for businesses to compensate for the demand. Innovations won’t be limited to certain parts of the global supply chain network, either. Anything and everything is fair game.
Heavy-duty trucking is one more illustrative case-in-point and it is much more recognizable to us, too. Those of us living near urban centers probably see semi-trucks on a daily basis. That’s because most time-sensitive material deliveries are made by trucks as opposed to rail. It also means the trucking industry is absolutely essential to the global supply chain network. Luckily, there are countless trucking businesses adapting accordingly. Many of them tap into things like FleetPal Connect, which is a cloud-based asset management tool specifically designed to help transportation companies operate more efficiently. Add AI- and machine learning-driven solutions into the mix and we have a recipe for ongoing optimization.
There are more opportunities right on the horizon. Forbes contributor, Steve Banker, promoted a set of other supply chain trends to watch this year. The article discusses omnichannel revenue management, labor shortages, automation, and tariffs–all of which are expected to influence the global supply chain network. His most important takeaway is understanding where certain emerging technologies rest on the maturity curve. In other words, how much do the global marketplace and its players understand about the tech and how long have they had to experiment with it. Those factors have serious implications to consider.
Suffice it to say that despite being almost entirely invisible to people, logistics and supply chain management are paramount to what we take for granted. While that might have been the case for the past century, things are about to change. Advanced robotics, for instance, is on the verge of maturity. Imagine the consequences for businesses worldwide when strenuous physical labor is outsourced to capable robots and shipping freighters can navigate the oceans themselves with a minimal human crew. Those things have never been closer.