From all indications, 2018 should be a very interesting year for supply chains and supply chain practitioners. I think there are a few advanced capabilities that will grow in importance but I also believe there is a growing awareness that to benefit from advanced planning and optimization capabilities a company needs to build a firm foundation. Companies need a robust integrated and highly functional supply chain platform that is operated by highly trained supply chain professionals. In a way, we need to go back to fundamentals to move forward to the future.
The Rise of Cloud Deployment and Heightened Security
The large number of major data breaches in 2017 has been the focus of many C-level meetings. In an interesting reversal, SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions are now viewed by most as the least risky deployment option and this will increase in the year ahead. 2018 will bring a renewed emphasis on security for supply chain facilities due to the growing awareness that data breaches can originate through almost any type of connected system and the fact that more facilities are being opened in unstable geographies.
The Shift to Continuous Planning
The pace of the supply chain, increasingly driven by ever-growing customer expectations (Amazon Effect) can make monthly, weekly or even daily periodic planning processes on their own insufficient for today’s operations. The concept of continuous planning where planners address opportunities and disruptions as they happen will continue to gain ground in 2018. These efforts could be part of a Sales and Operations Execution (S&OE) process or tightly tied to building more robust digital planning and optimization capabilities. To facilitate continuous planning process companies will start to move towards cross-functional teams working in a control-room type environment to address global disruptions and opportunities using advanced planning and optimization capabilities.
You can’t open a recent supply chain periodical today without seeing something about artificial intelligence (AI). Advanced analytics, machine learning, algorithmic planning, and AI will all continue to capture a significant slice of attention in 2018. In the year ahead, this will require supply chains to shift how they operate. You can see examples of this shift as companies start to function in a bi-modal fashion (read more here: Gartner Keynote: Algorithms Rule the World — and the Supply Chain). With digitization of the supply chain, the role of the planner will become one of solving problems using advanced analytics to make business decisions not just supply chain decisions.
The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to drive supply chain execution innovation as companies find new opportunities in the wealth of data available. For many, the current state includes difficulties interfacing IoT data in a high quality, repeatable fashion. Most companies just aren’t at the point where consuming this firehose of data is feasible.
Supply Chain Data Quality and Ownership
Supply Chain Master Data Management (MDM) is quickly becoming a critical foundational requirement and I expect to see more interest in this area in 2018. Much of the data used for supply chain planning and execution comes from outside of a company’s ERP systems. Ask yourself, where is supply chain data maintained at your company today? The answer might surprise you. Effective supply chain planning and optimization requires high quality and consistent data and the ability to easily and quickly maintain and update that data. Inconsistent and poor quality data will degrade confidence in recommendations. One of my mentors once told me that, “One awe S#?* wipes out 1000 Attaboys (or Girls)”. One piece of bad data that tarnishes a recommendation will be difficult to overcome. To take full advantage of IoT data, supply chain organizations will need to invest in their Supply Chain Master Data Management capabilities and platforms.
You continually hear from hiring managers that there is a “War for Talent” driving increased salaries, benefits, and turnover rates for supply chain professionals. This will not change anytime soon. Actually, with a shrinking baby-boomer workforce the war for talent is only going to heat up in 2018 (read more here: The Talent Gap and here: Imagine 2030: Supply Chain Talent). Companies will need to find additional ways to attract and retain talent like rotational programs, clear-cut career paths, advanced degree support, and support for professional training. Another way is to provide advanced supply chain platforms that allow team members to work on more value-added activities. Yes, the ability to hire and retain talent could be another way to justify an investment in new supply chain planning and optimization capabilities.
Taking S&OP to the Next Level
I have personally seen the significant benefits of a well-run S&OP process and I know other practitioners have as well. I may be going out on a limb here but I think 2018 will be the year of renewed efforts around putting advanced S&OP capabilities in place including the ability to:
- Optimize the end-to-end supply chain based on constraints and business objectives (minimize cost, maximize profits, meet customer service levels, etc.)
- Analyze the impacts of product lifecycle decisions, especially new product introductions
- Align and synchronize strategic, tactical and operational planning
- Collaboratively plan with partners and customers
A year from now I am sure we will all get a good laugh by revisiting this piece, but I am hopeful that a least of few of my predictions will hold true. Here’s to a happy and successful 2018.