SCDigest: What will be the supply chain of the future?
By Dan Gilmore
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a
current article from Supply Chain Digest.
As most prognosticators
acknowledge, predicting the “what” of the future is relatively easy
compared to getting the timing close to right. What I am also struggling
with is the temptation to paint a picture of a supply chain world in which
simply everything is automated – though, indeed, that may very well
be a huge component of the future vision.
But here is a question:
When do we reach a point in the level of supply chain automation, both
physical and informational, that there just is not a whole lot more we
can do in terms of supply chain improvements? Is that point likely to come
fairly soon, or is it decades away?
Ditto with regard to “integration.” It
would also be relatively easy to simply paint a vision where we have virtually
100 percent integration both within the enterprise and across trading partners
and networks. Much more dicey, of course, would be predicting the timing
of this (remembering, for example, the lessons and history of EDI), but
even beyond that, does foretelling a world of near perfect automation and
integration really tell us much? I don’t really think so.
Others have and will
continue to take a stab at this. Perhaps the most well known is MIT’s Supply
Chain 2020 project, started I think in 2003 and initially led by Dr. Larry
Lapide. Here we are now just 10 years away from that end date that seemed
quite distant back in 2003. Is it time for Supply Chain 2025?
I am not sure if that
effort ever resulted in a definitive vision for what supply chain management
would be like in 2020. Among the contributions the effort has made, however,
is to well articulate that the future supply chain is inextricably linked
to what happens in many other spheres, especially political, economic,
Consider just a few questions:
- Do democracy and economic freedom
continue their generally steady march forward, leading to the developing
economies also continuing to grow in economic might and importance, or
do things take a step backward?
- What will China be like 10-15
years from now?
- Will the world’s biggest companies
become larger and larger, and thus ever more dominant – and thus leading
to a supply chain world of a few giants and many indentured suppliers? Or
will there be changing regulatory views on this?
- What happens with free trade,
nationalism, and protectionism?
- Do we have new energy sources,
or will oil be the main fuel 10 years from now and be at $500 a barrel
in a “peak oil” world?
You get the idea. My
view right now is I can’t predict the supply chain of the future without
some assumptions about the world of the future, which I thank MIT for pointing
Are we anywhere reaching a point in supply chain performance where there
won’t be a whole lot of room for improvement? How do you think the retail
supply chain of 2020 will be different than today?
Note] The author is currently developing a presentation on the supply chain
of the future to be delivered at the Material Handling and Logistics Conference