Future Supply Chain Manager (only Millennials need apply)

The supply chain industry (particularly the freight transport sector) has, I think it is fair to say, been slow to adopt technology.  The tangible cost of this, is a lack of increased efficiency (lower costs, emissions and congestion) and a greater dependency on ever scarcer resources (paper, good people, etc.).

The impact or less tangible cost is a perception of an industry which is old-fashioned and reliant on manual transactions. When compared to industries that have embraced the new, it is no surprise that freight transport fails to attract school leavers in search of a job.

What is the expectation?

Today’s school leavers view things differently. They have spent a life time with computers, the internet and gadgetry. For them, technological change is measured in months not years. They are brought up on digital technologies, taught how to programme and have a thirst for improvement. To attract new talent, the freight transport industry therefore needs to immerse itself fully in digitalisation now.

The future holds several exciting and connectable technologies;

  • clean (electric/hydrogen or hybrid) powered trucks running in platoons along intelligent highways
  • real time information using the Internet-of-Things (IoT) pre-advising receiving locations of goods in transit
  • autonomous shunt vehicles ready to place trailers onto loading docks based on geo fences being cross
  • autonomous fork lifts unloading goods for put away by robots in automated warehouses.

Some (but not all) of this technology is perhaps a decade from general implementation but, to get there, we need to have to right people who recognise the need for change and who also embrace the desire to see it happen.

What needs to change?

Sourcing should be both sustainable and ethical using real time track & trace visibility to manage inventory whilst in transit. Product can then be moved by the most sustainable mode of transport (consistent with affordability). More importantly, it can be managed en-route by real time intelligent, optimisation software to minimise both transit time and congestion.

Cross-business collaboration enabled by aggregation and optimisation tools that can elect the most efficient mode of transportation.  With pre-arranged access to data (based on agreed business rules), there would be greater opportunity to switch between modes as circumstances dictate/change (even en route).  Advanced collaborative planning tools with open access to systems would enable the optimisation of resources and minimisation of the otherwise negative effects of market inefficiencies.

To bring it all together, full visibility across the end-to-end supply chain would be needed. Using IoT technology linked to shared optimisation and planning tools would minimise any wastage through empty running of transport resources.

Such concepts as “local for local” or 3D printing would make a difference. These can reduce the need for some transportation over long distances with the consequent effects. Using city smart hubs and full 24/7 pre-planned access infrastructure will be optimised to enable more effective collection and delivery of goods.

The new supply chain manager

The whole concept of transport planning will change with real time optimisation. Booking a “transport plan” will be like making a “flight plan”. This will enable the optimal use of resources whilst minimising the impact on the built infrastructure.

The transport planner of the future will be much more like an air traffic controller and the supply chain manager the head of the control tower.  These jobs will be much more rewarding, meet the aspirations of Millennial’s and help to ensure the future success of a vital industry.

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