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The digitisation imperative and what it means for leaders

By Rebecca Green

With technologies including Cobots, Blockchain, 3D printing and robotic suits becoming an integral part of many supply chains, it’s important that leaders understand that these tools do not operate in isolation. It’s only when these technologies are converged together that they can bring real value to business.

Digitisation of the supply chain – whether in part or utilising a full suite of technologies – is a necessary but challenging process. And one which brings opportunity for those prepared to embrace it.  

In this blog, we’ll outline how different technologies can collaborate in unison to drive revenue. Let’s jump in.

Visibility imperative

Having visibility of the supply chain is all about inventory knowledge and certainty; knowing precisely what’s what and where it is at any given time. 

The ideal level of visibility would mean full view of your suppliers, of your supply chain, and of your customers. But few, if any businesses, can boast this level of visibility today.

However, the introduction of Blockchain technology presents an opportunity to go beyond traditional track & trace, to ensure the provenance of raw materials and goods.  The practical advantages are numerous.

Clear visibility beyond first tier partners is crucial in today’s uncertain and often unpredictable political climate. “It won’t affect us” is a dangerous assumption to make. Where goods are sourced from across the globe, we need to better understand the upstream journey and the implications that any disruption in supply could cause.

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Big data

Data can reduce uncertainty and help us to make better decisions.

The ability to generate insight from data creates huge opportunities to build in cost efficiencies and increase productivity. It plays an important role in protecting and growing the bottom line.

Supply chains can become more productive via the use of data. Clear market intelligence and data insights can support faster and more accurate decision making; a top-down view of the data in a business can help break down silos of information; data allows better integration and co-operation with customers and partners, and better use of human resource to manage customer, supplier and partner relationships.

Companies have been collecting and storing data for a long time now – but it is the underlying analysis that provides rich insight (using technologies such as AI) and is key to helping leaders plan and prepare for the ever-changing challenges of business. 

Data can help design the business model of the future, but it needs to be of sound quality. The technologies which help businesses analyse data are only as effective as the quality of the data used to fuel them.

On a more fundamental level, we need to appreciate that leaders can’t see everywhere. Open communication with their teams is crucial for leaders to uncover knowledge about the internal situation of a business and can highlight areas that are working particularly well or that require improvement.

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Upgrading work

Automation can bring many benefits to the supply chain, including easing the stress of a lack of workforce, providing better visibility and promoting higher productivity. Its cost can be off-putting, but should ideally be seen as an investment which has a tangible ROI in an acceptable time scale, as well as a means for future-proofing your business.

Automation can either substitute workers to undertake a simple, repetitive task, or augment workers, expanding their capability to allow them to achieve more and produce a better quality of work in a shorter space of time.

Upgrading work with automation is only possible for organisations that embrace and understand their people. Machines can be wonderful, but they're only as good as the people who specify, program and manage them.   While it can differ between sectors, the overwhelming benefits of humans over their robotic counterparts, is that people have the ability to empathise. A human’s ability to weigh-up emotional and logical information creates flexibility in their decision making.

We believe that people are at the very heart of logistics, and logistics without people is a prospect we reject. However, the future of many companies may depend on how well they organise and manage interactions between humans and automation.

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Built to last

Sustainability is making its way up the corporate agenda, and in few places more so than logistics.  Commitment to sustainability in practical terms means buy-in from management with tangible short, mid and long-term sustainability goals.

Digitisation can support sustainability across the supply chain in a number of ways; from Transport Management Systems to plan routes more efficiently and reduce fuel consumption, to Environmental Management Systems that support energy efficiency, and improved Inventory Management to minimise waste.

Benefits of sustainability are reflected in better customer satisfaction, cost saving initiatives, environmental and community benefits. It will underpin the need to focus on continuous innovation, keeping new ideas and better ways of improving sustainability constantly moving forwards.

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Looking ahead

Experts agree that the logistics and the supply chain sector are likely to run on very different business models in the future. For leaders, avoiding the issue or simply maintaining the status quo is a naïve outlook.

The fundamental nature of leadership has not changed, but rapid development and deployment of digital technologies means that the expectations for leaders are evolving; they should be curious about every facet of it.  The hope is that business leaders working in the supply chain will soon be as comfortable engaging in digital conversations as they are in financial ones or in their own areas of expertise.

In real terms, the future is now. Failing to prepare for digitisation even in the most traditional of sectors might create vulnerability and lack of competitive edge.

Read our full report on the future of logistics here.

Rebecca Green, Head of Insight, Wincanton

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