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Top Supply Chain Technologies to Watch

June 15, 2020
Gartner’s list of top supply chain technologies for 2020 is proving especially relevant during a year when COVID-19 is impacting nearly every corner of the business environment.

With the global supply chain environment becoming more and more complex every year, companies are investing in technology that helps them manage these interconnected networks, automate processes and allow employees to work on more value-added tasks. With the global pandemic still impacting their supply chains, companies also need tech that helps them better manage risk and future-proof their operations.

To help, Gartner highlighted these top supply chain tech trends that all companies should be watching in 2020. Very relevant in the current operating environment, the list includes (but isn’t limited to):

Hyperautomation

The combination of multiple machine learning (ML), packaged software and automation tools to deliver work, hyperautomation is a framework for delivering automation at scale. It’s used to mix, match and optimize various different technologies, including historic legacy platforms, enterprise functionality, recently deployed tools and planned investments.

According to Gartner, the supply chain is particularly ripe for more hyperautomation, which can be used as “a key strategic communications tool to encourage broader collaboration across functions and domains, especially those that are disparate or siloed.”

Digital Supply Chain Twin

A digital representation of the physical (often multi-enterprise) supply chain, the digital supply chain twin is a dynamic, real-time and time-phased representation of the various associations between the data objects that ultimately make up how the physical supply chain operates. Put simply, it’s a digital representation of the relationships between all the relevant entities of an end-to-end supply chain—such as products, customers, markets, distribution centers and/or warehouses, plants, finance, attributes and weather.

According to Gartner, the Internet of Things (IoT) has reenergized interest in digital twins today. In this case, the digital-twin trend focuses on creating the appropriate digital representation of  

“Well-designed DSCTs that will significantly improve enterprise and multi-enterprise decision making,” it adds.

Continuous Intelligence

Today’s companies need complete, extended and up-to-date situational awareness about their business ecosystems. Continuous intelligence (CI) offers a way to extend advanced analytics applications into the realm of decision support and decision automation. “By processing event-based and streaming data — no older than about 15 minutes — businesses can understand what’s happening now and react rapidly,” Gartner states, noting that CI works hand-in-hand with the digital supply chain twin. It leverages a computer’s ability to be “always-on,” collecting and processing detailed data at a faster rate than people can.

“CI is one of the biggest opportunities for supply chain leaders to accelerate their organizations’ digital transformation,” Gartner notes. “It is where real-time data improves the speed, accuracy, and effectiveness of local business decisions.”

Supply Chain Governance and Security

Gartner anticipates a wave of new solutions to emerge for supply chain security and governance, especially targeting privacy, cybersecurity and data security. Technology solutions and services for the new generation of supply chain security and governance include next-generation track-and-trace and serialization solutions (life sciences and other industry sectors), food safety, traceability, and product freshness solutions and platforms.

These tech services also include cybersecurity solutions that support supply chain systems, enterprises and hardware infrastructure, plus encryption and decryption tools for software, mobile devices, applications and integration interfaces. Other innovations that fall under this umbrella include dedicated IoT tools and functionality; smart and secure packaging and labeling solutions; anti-counterfeiting solutions; and unique identification, fingerprinting and authentication solutions.

Artificial Intelligence

A continually evolving framework of technology components, protocols, coding and tools that can be deployed across all areas of the supply chain, AI can be incorporated as an additional enabler within an existing solution. In other words, it can stand on its own as a technology enabler to deliver against a specific business outcome (e.g., algorithms for ML for robotic process automation).  

“AI’s core premise in supply chains consists of a toolbox of technology options that will ultimately seek to emulate and surpass human performance in the long term,” Gartner points out. “AI will also help companies in accelerating the understanding of complex content, sometime beyond the comprehension of humans, engaging in natural dialogues with people, enhancing human cognitive performance, or freeing up human resources in the execution of routine tasks in favor of those that are more creative and strategic.”

5G Networks

Next-generation mobile broadband and cellular standard data services available to both business (enterprises) and individual customers, 5G services target significant enhancements impacting data speed, processing ability, distribution and visualization, across a host of devices and technology systems with projections of increases of tenfold increases in data speed.

“5G represents massive leaps from previous incremental generation upgrades, such as 2G to 3G, or 3G to 4G,” Gartner states. “This factor has been a major reason that much interest is now being shown by supply chain and operations leaders for what 5G means for their supply chains.”

Preparing for What’s Ahead

Pointing to augmented reality and virtual reality as two other technologies that supply chain operators should be paying attention to this year, Gartner says blockchain, intelligent autonomous things, IoT and advanced analytics should also stay on organizations’ radar screens.

As companies continue to work their way through COVID-related challenges and other disruptions, the technologies outlined above will play a role in helping to digitalize supply chains and shield them from the shock of the next disruption.

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.