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Tell It Like It Is. What Will Supply Chain 2030 Look Like?

Source: LinkedIn – Lora Cecere -13/12/2015oudedame

As I age, and as more and more manufacturing companies offer early retirement packages, I often find I am the only person with wrinkles in the room. Today, in the average conference room within a manufacturing company, we have less diversity of age than I saw when I was in my late 20s. No doubt about it, in most situations I am the old gal.

Supply chain management processes are now 30-years old. Last week, at the beginning of a meeting, someone asked for me to reflect on the past and share the story of what it was like to work in manufacturing in the 1980s. They then asked me to predict what supply chain processes would look like in 2030. I loved the challenge! Here I share my response.


When I tell the story of working in the 1980s it is hard for a GEN Y audience to fathom the degree of the change. Here is my response to the question, "What was it like 30 years ago?"
I said, "In the morning, I would walk into the office and get a white index card from my secretary. The white index card outlined my appointments for the day. If someone wanted a meeting they had to make the case to my secretary. She was a political arbitrator. The secretaries sat in a large circle and managed our calendars and typed letters manually. White-out was a popular product back then.
I wrote my memos longhand. Each day I gave them to my secretary to type. We got mail in interoffice mail envelopes (see the inclusion). There was no email. The mail room was the hub of activity. In the back room of a small IT shop there was a mainframe computer, but this was before the days of the personal computer. (In 1991 I got my first computer on my desk.) In 1988 we got our first portable computer, but it was not easy to move. It required two people to move it.
In 1988 I got my first cell phone, but it was heavy and the sound quality was poor. We would never think of calling internationally, and were lucky to satisfactorily return a call in travel. Many would consider the processes antiquated. Each morning I received a telex reporting the status information of the two Philippines operations which I managed, and each afternoon I would send them a production plan that I calculated manually. I even sometimes used a slide rule."
At this point they would laugh and ask me to explain what a slide rule was.
Continuing, I said, "When we presented, we used foils and an overhead projector. These transparencies were prepared in advance and transported in a box, and I feared dropping them and getting them out of order. I first used PowerPoint when I was 30 in 1994.
In the 1980s, in the morning we made our own coffee at home and brought it to work in a thermos. There were no coffee shops or fast-food drive-through options on the way to work. A lot has changed. Yes, we have a lot more automation, but we ask the same questions on cost, quality and customer service."

Looking Forward

So when people ask me to reflect on the next 30 years, it is useful for me to reflect on the past and think constructively about how much has changed in the workplace in my lifetime. I was a first generation supply chain pioneer. 2030 will represent 50 years of supply chain progress.
Here is my future-looking vision. (The picture is of Baxter and Sawyer courtesy of Rethink Robotics.) In painting this picture I am going to deliberately avoid the buzzword bingo terms of Big Data, the Internet of Things, and omni-channel. (I hate these terms.) I shared these seven points with use cases on the whiteboard in the conference room with the group last week:
Evolution of the Autonomous Supply Chain. Sensors. Maps. GPS. Manless vehicles. Robotics. Prescriptive and cognitive learning engines will power the dawn of the autonomous supply chain. What will it look like? While labor will still be required (in the cabs of trucks and on warehouse equipment), the flows will be more automated, interconnected and adaptive. Manless vehicles will be loaded and unloaded through semi-automatic machinery using telematics and sensor technologies. Digital manufacturing—sensing from factory floor sensors and programmable logic controls (PLCs)—will redefine maintenance and workflows in process industries, while robotics will redefine smaller more distributed factories in discrete industries. Sensors and connectivity will improve the uptime of heavy equipment.
Advancements in Safe and Secure Supply Chains. Cold chains. Hazardous shipments. Fake/gray goods. Today 1/3 of fruits and vegetables and poultry products are thrown away due to spoilage. Companies struggle with counterfeit goods. In the future I expect the automation of the chain of custody with better control of temperature and secure handling.

TraditionalProcesses versus digitalBusiness

Ownership. Cradle-to-Cradle. Waste fills our oceans. Commerce into India and China moved faster than infrastructure. In 2030 manufacturers will be forced to take control and ownership of supply chain waste. We will see the redefinition of the landfill.
Learning Systems. Supply chain planning systems will be redefined based on cognitive learning. This transformation will define the third generation of planning and will make the current predictive analytics obsolete.
Network of Networks. The use of non-relational open source standards along with cognitive learning will enable a B2B network that will enable cross-network visibility, alerting and benchmarking across the networks of manufacturers, 3PLs, and freight forwarders. The network of networks will be the "Google" equivalent for B2B shipments and intercompany searching and alerting.
Additive Printing. 3D Printing and additive manufacturing will help us to personalize the delivery of customized discrete, low-volume items. Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) parts will be redefined. Parts will be printed in maintenance shops. While not all parts will be replaced, store rooms will be reduced. Additive printing will also help redefine medical device supply chains and the testing of drug cocktails on tumors. It will also drive a redefinition of organ transplants. (While I am not sure that it will be approved by government regulations, I expect serious experimentation on 3D printing of organ transplants by 2030.)
Building of Digital Outside-In Processes. Today's planning processes are inside-out. Companies cannot sense markets and planning processes are based on historic orders and shipments. As markets become more volatile, and assortment more regional, companies will build outside-in processes with test-and-learn capabilities across channels.
These are my thoughts. I would love to hear from you.
Each year, I work with thought leaders to envision the future. Let me know if you are interested in attending the Supply Chain Insights Global Summit where we Imagine the Future.

About Lora:

Lora Cecere is the Founder of Supply Chain Insights. She is trying to redefine the industry analyst model to make it friendlier and more useful for supply chain leaders. Lora has written the books Supply Chain Metrics That Matter and Bricks Matter, and is currently working on her third book, Leadership Matters. She also actively blogs on her Supply Chain Insights website, at the Supply Chain Shaman blog, and for Forbes. When not writing or running her company, Lora is training for a triathlon, taking classes for her DBA degree in research, knitting and quilting for her new granddaughter, and doing tendu (s) and Dégagé (s) to dome her feet for pointe work at the ballet barre. Lora thinks that we are never too old to learn or to push for excellence.

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