Technologies will alter supply chain landscape, say researchers

IoT Network & Logistics Automation

Rapidly advancing technology will change the supply chain landscape in decades to come and some emerging technologies will drastically disrupt the status quo, according to researchers at the Supply Chain & Logistics Association of Australia (SCLAA) and Swinburne University of Technology (SUT).

Last spring, SCLAA and SUT jointly released a paper documenting their findings from the Australian Supply Chain Technology Survey. For the survey, researchers talked to 188 participants in 18 supply chain and logistics sectors.

Researchers focused on nine major technology streams:

  • 3-D printing
  • AI
  • Driverless
  • Big Data
  • Blockchain
  • Drones
  • IoT
  • Robotics
  • Virtual Reality

While all nine are critical in different industries, we are taking a closer look at Big Data Analytics, Blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT), which have the greatest relevance to our industry, freight and logistics management.

According to the paper, “Supply chains are facing a period of significant disruption driven by advances in technology which are increasing both operational efficiencies and customer expectations.”

Let’s look at what the researchers found:

Big Data Analytics

Respondents said Big Data Analytics is the technology expected to have the greatest impact on the supply chain industry over the coming decade, with 63 percent expecting it to have a significant or great impact on their firms.

Perhaps one of the more developed and integrated of the nine technology streams today, Big Data Analytics is the process of examining large datasets, containing a variety of data types, to uncover patterns, correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information.

In many regards, Big Data Analytics can be considered a stepping stone to wider adoption of Machine Learning. Traditionally, humans find cause and effect relationships. This capability is progressively being handed over to AI, which requires large data sets and significant processing power, according to the paper.

Having spent my career in Analytics, Big Data, Machine Learning, we’re most excited about creating industry solutions using these technologies.

AI & Big Data enable the use of data from phones, IoT devices, email, websites and documents (securely and privately) to help “digitise” the logistics industry. We are focusing on these technologies as we see these technologies as essential precursors to widespread of adoption of Blockchain.

The Internet of Things

IoT refers to networks of objects (devices, vehicles, containers, etc.) embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity and computing capability, that can collect and exchange data over the Internet.

IoT connects devices remotely monitored or controlled. The term IoT has come to represent any device that is now “connected” and accessible via a network connection. The industry projects the quantity of IoT devices to explode over the coming years, with General Electric predicting investment in Industrial IoT to exceed $60 trillion over the next 15 years.

We expect IoT to have the biggest impact in supply chain efficiencies; real time tracking; predictive maintenance to increase machinery up-time and lower costs and improved inventory monitoring.

IoT is the most integrated of the nine technologies examined in the study, with 48 percent of respondents already using it in their businesses. Forty-four percent are already using Big Data Analytics.

Blockchain

Blockchain drove the second most commentary, with sentiment reflecting its’ early days: “once the hype around crypto-currencies settles, then the true benefits of blockchain will be recognised” … “it is a very exciting development with potential that is not yet understood” and remains a technology which is “still very much misunderstood in the workplace,” according to the paper.

Blockchains are distributed electronic ledgers that use software to record and confirm transactions with speed and certainty. The ledger is backed up across multiple computer systems which must agree to new transactions. This process allows for certainty and immutability in data, all with the latest in cryptographic security.

The researchers expect Blockchain to have the biggest impact in improving supplier and supply chain collaboration; supply chain transparency; and the further automation of manual processes.

That Blockchain has incredible potential to improve trust and transparency in logistics is well understood.

However, the lack of digitisation globally across the industry is a significant roadblock.

Researchers Charles Edwards, president of SCLAA, and John Hopkins, discipline leader in supply chain and logistics management at SUT, warn that if projections hold true, Australian companies are not investing enough in developing capabilities across these technologies to remain competitive.

“Ignoring these technologies for too long could be a very costly decision to make,” the researchers wrote.

Finally, as with all emerging technologies, security looms as a major issue. Ninety percent of respondents have concerns with the nascent technologies, with security and hacking the chief areas of concern.

Following security and hacking, the next top two areas of concern center on loss of jobs and the associated societal change issues related to technological automation and Artificial Intelligence, according to the paper.

Cate Hull is the CEO of FreightExchange, a freight and logistics management firm based in Sydney.