A fascinating paradox has gripped the supply chain industry. Today’s supply chains have become more complex than ever, growing in size and scope to encompass more trading partners, more facilities and more customers, often spanning the globe. Yet to efficiently collaborate with those trading partners, run those facilities and serve those customers, simplicity is key. You need to be able to answer basic questions: where’s your inventory? What’s happening right now in your supply chain? Do your customers have what they need? Technology is the key to streamlining the supply chain, but as discussed at the KC SmartPort annual industry briefing, it’s not a matter of simply using technology, but truly understanding what it is and what it can do.
Think about the technology you use on a daily basis—a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop or a wearable. When you decide to purchase that technology, what’s more important: what the technology is, or what it does? Hint: it’s the latter!
During the KC SmartPort briefing, a panel of national experts (Mark Heinrich, GM of strategic sourcing and supply chain management for Microsoft; Jeff Risley, business development leader for Bartlett & West; Mitch Free, founder and CEO of Cloud DDM; Dan Pinkham, director of operational excellence for Compass Minerals; and Andrew Ehlers, vice president channel sales, NA Central US and Canada for Zebra Technologies) discussed not only new technology, but also how things like 3D printing and the Internet of Things are transforming the supply chain to create greater visibility and efficiency. And given Heinrich’s remarks on logistics, Kansas City was the natural place to hold such a discussion.
“When you talk about logistics and the technology revolution going on, logistics is the new manufacturing,” he said. “This is especially true in Kansas City, where you can reach nearly the entire U.S. population within 48 hours by truck. The thing that is amazing to see is how this is changing the face of the workforce in Kansas City.”
That’s one of the critical value adds of technology: today’s unprecedented levels of connectivity and access virtually eliminate communication and other gaps between people and companies. You can instantly send product specs to a field worker on the other side of the world, or distribute goods in hours and days, rather than weeks. When you consider the high rate of speed at which business happens, it’s no wonder that companies are focused on keeping pace, rather than falling behind and losing critical market share to competitors.
As Ehlers commented during the discussion, today’s proliferation of technology doesn’t just require new use cases, but also a different mindset.
“…And with the accelerated rate of adoption today around hardware, data is the new device. Hardware really goes into the background.”
A mountain of information flows through supply chains on a daily basis. Capturing—and more importantly, using—that information remains a key challenge, one that can be alleviated by incorporating mobile devices, Internet of Things-enabled connectivity and automated info gathering.
Yet for all this talk about technology and gadgets and real-world supply chain scenarios, KC SmartPort reminded us that people are even more important than before. After all, it’s people who use the technology, act on the data and move freight around the world. By keeping those people front and center—and equipping them with the technology that helps them work smarter, faster and better—companies will be well on their way to reshaping their supply chains into streamlined networks that function and evolve in real time.
A big thanks to KC SmartPort and the panelists for an incredible event and thought-provoking discussion. Now, it’s your turn. Tweet us at @DSIMobile and share your thoughts on supply chain technology. What’s at the top of your wish list? Where do you see the biggest opportunity for technology-enabled supply chain transformation? And as KC SmartPort asked, how do you define technology? Let’s keep the conversation and innovation going. And in the meantime, check out this KC SmartPort video from the event: