We are living in an era defined by constant change and unpredictability. And as we catapult towards Industry 4.0, companies increasingly face the need to digitally transform their supply chain or risk falling behind.
Today’s supply chains are incredibly complex, but they’re also fragile. Largely composed of a series of fragmented steps, they have the potential to collapse in times of political unrest, natural disasters or global pandemics.
This is where digitalisation comes into play. If implemented correctly, emerging technology has the potential to streamline this process and help mitigate some of the major challenges of modern supply chains.
Read on to see how technological innovation and process automation can help make the supply chain as agile, transparent, and future-proof as it needs to be.
COVID-19 highlights the need for agility
As the Fung Group’s Pamela Mar indicated in a recent Harvard Business Review podcast, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in the supply chain, as well as reinforced the need for digitalization. When China shut down in January 2020, it was impossible to export goods from the country for two whole months. This freeze had an immediate impact on retailers in Europe and the US, who still rely on China to produce the majority of their products.
And this isn’t the first time that such problems have put a spanner in the works. With significant disruptions occurring on a regular basis, companies need to be able to shift production to near- or on-shore locations rather than depending on a single country to produce their goods.
As noted by Orange, this geographical diversification of supply chains “makes advanced digitization and the tracking of raw materials, components, and finished goods across a wide range of locations a vital part of a digital risk management strategy.”
Improved transparency is necessary in an expanding market
Supply chains are becoming increasingly complex as more and more stakeholders are involved in creating a single product. With so many moving parts, there is an increased need for technology that tracks data every step of the way, as well as for businesses to be able to communicate that information as needed.
Not only is improved transparency incredibly important for a company to understand and optimise their supply chain, but it’s also crucial for meeting government regulations and improving reputation. As consumers demand more social responsibility, they are more likely to trust companies that source their products sustainably and ethically, and disclose this information with full confidence.
This is where solutions like blockchain technology come into play, by providing end-to-end traceability and access to secure information about the product journey.
Automation speeds up vital processes
In order to stay ahead of the competition, companies need to deliver products to consumers at an increasingly rapid rate. Among other solutions, 3D printing will enable suppliers to simplify production, facilitate customisation, and in turn reduce costs and increase speed.
Additionally, the Internet of Things (IoT) – specifically radio-frequency identification (RFID) – is becoming increasingly popular when it comes to digitalising supply chains. RFID chips are similar to barcode scanners, but they differ in that they don’t require users to scan each individual tag.
Logiwa points out that this is an ideal solution for warehouse managers and global supply chain executives, who can “[slash their] receiving time by checking inventory without opening every box to scan individual items or by being able to easily track fast-moving goods in their warehouse.”
Digitalisation can predict consumer demand
In addition to streamlining logistical and operational problems in the supply chain, digitalisation will also be key to predicting and reacting to fluctuating customer demand. Thanks to social media trends and local weather events, among other variables, demand for specific products can skyrocket – or drastically drop – from one day to the next.
Increased digitalisation throughout the supply chain can help companies analyse and react quicker to consumer demand through big data analysis, artificial intelligence, and the implementation of specific algorithms that can create predictions and tweak production.
A better future for supply chains and start-ups
Take The Collider’s AllRead start-up, for example. Their machine-learning technology brings intelligent reading systems to supply chains around the world. Through AllRead’s software, clients can use their cameras or mobile devices to capture codes and convert them into big data. The idea is to replace outdated OCR and barcode systems, as well as disrupt the airline and pharmaceutical industries, among others.
Another example is Zipline, a California-based start-up that facilitates the autonomous last-mile delivery of medical supplies through drones. Launched in Rwanda, Zipline’s digitalised supply-chain system has saved lives by eliminating manual processes and therefore reducing the time between order and delivery. They plan to use this technology to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in the near future.
Yes, digital transformation is expensive and complicated to implement. But in today’s climate, it’s crucial for the long-term survival of supply chains. With the right combination of emerging technologies, companies will be able to prepare for a robust, time-efficient, and cost-effective supply chain that runs smoothly from start to finish.
The Collider is a venture-building programme that works hard to bridge the gap between science, corporates, and entrepreneurship. This innovation project encourages tech-transfer initiatives to connect science and entrepreneurial talent in order to create disruptive technology-based start-ups. The Collider is powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a tech-focused initiative that aims to drive the digital transformation of society to help improve people’s lives around the world.