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Gartner Forecasts Top '21 Supply Chain Technology Themes

June 10, 2021

Supply Chain Innovations Can Provide Positive Impact on People, Performance and Industries

With the growing need for digitally interconnected supply chain networks, Gartner has identified the top 8 supply chain technology themes in 2021. Gartner analysts have selected the themes for their transformational potential and their ability to foster operational resiliency across business functions, technology, and service delivery.

“This year, we’ve decided to focus on broader, overarching technology themes rather than individual technologies,” said Christian Titze, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice. “This is because innovative technologies are often combined together in order to solve specific supply chain business problems.”

The top supply chain technology themes in 2021 are:

Hyperautomation

Hyperautomation describes the combination of technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) that can facilitate or automate tasks that originally required some form of human judgment or action.

Over the next 10 years, people and businesses will need to delegate more and more authority of decision making to intelligent applications, physical robots and software service assistants. Hyperautomation is expected to help automate transactional processes, such as order to cash and complex decision making, eventually augmenting human capabilities and supporting the creation of an autonomous supply chain.

Digital Supply Chain Twin (DSCT)

The DSCT is a digital representation of the physical supply chain. It is the basis for local and end-to-end (E2E) decision making for the supply chain and ensures that this decision making is aligned horizontally and vertically throughout the network. The DSCT is derived from all the relevant data across the supply chain and its operating environment.

Immersive Experience and Applications

Immersive experience reimagines the user experience by enabling users to perceive and interact with the virtual world. Head-mounted displays (HMDs), wearables, smartglasses, 5G, and even smartphones or tablets provide the infrastructure and enhancements to immersive experiences through a mix of graphic processing, AI and other individual business applications.

“Immersive experience technologies have the potential to radically influence the trajectory of supply chain management. It presents new interaction models through the product life cycle, not only with humans, but with other processes, machines and applications,” Mr. Titze said. “Pioneer companies already benefit from outcomes, such as safer working environments, faster repair times, improved work error rate, better collaboration and retention of skills and knowledge.”

Edge Ecosystems

Edge ecosystems consist of edge computing and edge data processing applications. Edge ecosystems allow supply chain technology leaders to reassign and replan large swaths of data processing capacity to the edges of enterprises, where things and people produce or make decisions. For example, those technologies can be used to track and monitor condition or temperature requirements across multiple phases of a product’s life cycle.

Bob Bova, President and CEO of AccuSpeechMobile commented, "Christian Titze, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice is correct when he highlights both Hyperautomation and Edge Ecosystems as Supply Chain Innovations that empower the user experience while moving the needle on the evolution of the supply chain. AccuSpeechMobile has always embraced the edge and hyperautomation strategies as our solution technology is an RPA using voice on edge technologies. Voice automating optimized processes has always been the cornerstone of the advancements we offer to our customers."

Supply Chain Security

Supply chain security brings together a more comprehensive approach to embrace security risks such as counterfeits or cybercrime holistically across the E2E supply chain. With digitally connected E2E networks as an aspirational goal for many organizations, a new generation of scalable supply chain security technology solutions are anticipated to evolve.

Rajeev Gupta, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer at Cowbell Cyber said, "We’re glad to see security highlighted as a key theme for the supply chain in 2021. Security has been a serious concern in the past and most recently with several cyberattacks disrupting critical supply chains – food, oil, etc... Businesses should seek advice and help from their cyber insurers to build resiliency against such attacks. Next-generation cyber policies, like those provided by Cowbell Cyber, come with a wealth of resources - continuous risk assessment, risk insights, cyber training and more to help organizations understand and quantify their cyber risk profile including exposures introduced through the supply chain."

Environmental Social Governance (ESG)

Global supply chains have a pivotal role to play in their contribution to both map and assess ESG risks and opportunities. Current technologies allow to track the origins of products, such as palm oil or soy and align with corporate biodiversity and climate change goals.

“Modern supply chains are highly connected and interdependent. Organizations need technologies to map and prepare for ESG opportunities, risks and impacts. Failure to invest in tools and solutions that govern, predict and adapt to new ESG impacts could have a significant influence on brand or company image, customer value perception, and the cost and availability of goods,” Mr. Titze said.

Arshad Matin, CEO of Avetta added, "As the world emerges from the COVID-19 crisis and navigates the arduous path to sustainable economic recovery, we believe that ESG will continue to remain an important discussion among companies and their stakeholders. The closer examination of corporate practices has inevitably extended to companies’ supply chains. Indeed, the rise of outsourcing has meant for many Western corporations, 90% of their environmental footprint has been pushed into their supply chain.

From our vantage of working with the leading corporations and thousands of suppliers around the globe, we are witnessing an ever-growing interest in ESG supply chain management. However, we also recognize the complexities and intricacies of ESG supply chain implementation.

We at Avetta take pride in having helped our network of suppliers improve their safety practices an average of 57% after joining the program. Now we are excited to continue that journey in helping to turn the supply chain not just safer, but greener, more diverse and inclusive. We have deepened the ESG capabilities of our platform, and simultaneously, are taking a proactive role in sharing actionable insights with our community of corporate clients and supply chain partners.

Avetta is committed to providing best-in-class ESG solutions to our clients and partners."

Embedded AI and Analytics

Embedded AI and analytics are software capabilities that deliver real-time reporting, interactive data visualization and advanced analytics and intelligence directly into an enterprise business application. This stack of technologies can be used in warehousing. Mobile robot controls or intelligent robotic picking systems leverage their embedded analytics to further optimize operations.

Augmented Data Intelligence

Augmented data intelligence is a combination of several technologies that facilitate advanced data processing on top of a data lake/platform and further allow for the delivery of insightful information, predictions and suggestions.

“Supply chain organizations often don’t have all the information they need for good decision-making. Technology leaders look for a solution that helps them increase visibility and that generates insights from data. This is where augmented data intelligence comes in next to core business applications. These solutions have the capability to collect, correlate and analyze several data pipelines and provide leaders with the information they need,” Mr. Titze concluded.

Dan Gilmore, CMO at Softeon noted, "This is an interesting list, but think for the vast majority of companies these kinds of really advanced technologies are several years down the road. The exception to that would be supply chain security, where the existing urgency was taken even higher due to several well publicized Ransomware attacks in recent weeks.

Where companies are actually spending money in 2021 starts with distribution center automation, driven by the need to reduce fulfillment costs, add ecommerce capacity, and deal with the on-going labor crunch.

In fact, the demand is so strong the leads time for conveyors is now stretching out for more than six months. All that in turn drives adoption of Warehouse Management Systems to support the new automation, either as a greenfield project or retrofitting an exiting DC.

The digital twin idea is interesting, but is a big project that in a sense is never really done. That said, Softeon is creating a type of digital twin for simulating the impact of changes to distribution center processes or technology."

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