First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Feb. 6, 2015  

Supply Chain Predictions 2015 from the Analyst Community


Ok, the last of our predictions for 2015, this year again with some highlights of the predictions from key supply chain analysts.

Last week in this coluumn, we highlighted 2015 predictions from this years panel of supply chain gurus. We then ran the full text predictons from these gurus in our OnTarget newsletter.

Now it's time to summarize analyst predictions, starting with my friends at Gartner, which had three sets of "predicts" this year: global logistics, supply chain planning, and predictions for chief supply chain officers.

On the global logistics front, Garter predicts that by 2018, 5% of companies with complex picking operations will pilot mobile, self-navigating and smart warehouse robots. 5% may not sound like much, but it would represent a huge increase from current levels.


Gilmore Says:

Gartner says "Fifty percent of today's senior supply chain executives will turn over by 2018 due to misalignment between leadership skills and supply chain maturity."

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Gartner starts by noting that while robots have been around for decades in manufacturing operations, the use of robots in distribution centers has been limited by the typical architecture of industrial robots (though a few companies are using robots for automated palletization at the end of sorter diverts). Industrial robots are typically large, heavy and designed to do specific tasks (such as welding or assembly) and are in fixed locations.

However, "New types of robotics are emerging to address the limitations of complex automated warehouses of the past and are advanced evolutions of previous generations of automated guided vehicles (AGVs)," Gartner says.

It adds that "While commercial adoption will remain low, warehouse robots will evolve rapidly during the next five years to address some limitations of previous generations of automation."

That includes lower costs, flexibility to perform multiple tasks, and improved "intelligence," where the robots might communicate with each other to get the work done most efficiently.

I'll note that of course there are several types of robots for DCs, including the palletizers referenced above (which themselves are getting more flexible), the AGV-type machines (most notably instantiated in what are now Amazon's Kiva System robots), and potential humanoid type robots such as Rethink Robotics' Baxter unit that might be able to do order packing, kitting and maybe someday split case picking.

Gartner adds that "Although warehouse robots will gain traction in complex distribution centers, the same technologies will have applications outside warehouses as the technology matures. For example, in retail stores, there is the potential in the not-too-distant future that robots will be able to unload trucks and deliver pallets of goods to specific departments in a store, without human intervention."

On the supply chain sides, Garter predicts that "By 2018, 40% of all manufacturing companies will have a chartered demand planning organization that is tasked with creating demand forecasts and demand plans."

Don't most companies have such an organization today? I sure thought so, but maybe not.

Regardless, the discussion is interesting. Gartner notes that "The move toward becoming demand-driven is forcing companies to re-evaluate their approach to managing demand. There is a shift toward extending the time horizon of demand plan development from three to six months to 12 to 24 months for many companies."

Gartner says many companies still rely heavily on forecasts from commercial and finance teams to try to develop the demand signals that are sent to supply planning and manufacturing - but are finding that they are ill-equipped to forecast true marketplace demand and have difficulty accurately identifying what product is needed in which location to meet customer demand (that is, forecasting at SKU-location level).

It adds that "While many companies are embarking on S&OP planning initiatives to try to collaborate and tune their demand signal, they find that their forecasting methods are woefully inadequate to provide a suitable input into S&OP."

It also says that while demand planning software vendors are making important strides in capabilities, "As companies continue to implement and leverage these features, those without focused demand planning groups will find that they are ill-equipped to take full advantage of the software features."

As more companies strive to improve supply chain responsiveness, they are looking to utilize demand-sensing capabilities to drive more accurate and more granular short-term signals to supply planning and manufacturing.

In terms of predictions for chief supply chain officers, not such good news, as Gartner says "Fifty percent of today's senior supply chain executives will turn over by 2018 due to misalignment between leadership skills and supply chain maturity."

Yikes! That seems high - 50% gone in three years?

Gartner argues that "Traditionally, supply chain executives have been successful because they were good at driving down costs. Now, they will be judged on cost containment and the ability to promote and support the top line."

That shift - along with the need to rapidly "digitize" supply chains and rethink process models on a global basis - means many CSCOs simply will not be able to keep up.

Since surveys clearly show CEOs want to invest in overall business digitization, CSCOs need to "restructure strategic planning activities and medium- to long-term initiative portfolios to incorporate the company's digital business strategy as reality. For any big decision that is in play, ask the question, how would I alter our approach here in light of my CEO's plans for digital business?"

It also recommends CSCOs work to establish tighter connections to the CIO to get more aligned with IT.

In its supply chain predictions for 2015, the analysts at IDC Manufacturing Insights say that by 2016, 70% of global discrete manufacturers will offer smart connected products, driving the need for new digital supply chain capabilities

Ok, this is internet of Things stuff, and no question we are soon going to have billions of connected devices, machines, etc.

But IDC smartly recognizes some of the real challenges here: Who owns this digital supply chain? The supply chain organization itself? A partnership between supply chain, IT, and maybe even marketing? Ownership of the digital supply chain will be a critical question, and IDC notes that for a manufacturer that has historically managed physical supply chains, this digital supply chain is scary stuff indeed. "This automation of products increases the need to have a unified, global product development system that can manage mechanical, electrical, and software information for all engineering domains - and a supply chain that can deliver these products," IDC says.

IDC also predicts that by 2017, 50% of manufacturers will explore the viability of "micro-logistics" networks to enable the promise of accelerated delivery for select products and customers.

IDC's Simon Ellis writes that "One of the consequences of increasing customer centricity, and the reality of reducing order lead times, is that the traditional large, regional distribution center may have seen its peak. While we do not believe there isn't a role for the 1 million square foot facility, we are expecting that manufacturers will begin to explore smaller, local warehouses that will make up a micro-logistics network. This will not be a trivial undertaking, and it may be implemented in various ways, including partnering with large logistics service providers, but it seems to be an inevitable result of accelerated delivery, particularly if direct to consumer grows as a practical channel."

Hmm. I am not sure about that. In the consumer packaged goods side, the trend it seems to me is towards fewer, large full service facilities, as Procter & Gamble is doing with a new series of giant mixing center DCs. Amazon, Walmart and others may simply be the answer for direct to consumer.

More industrial type products, on the other hand, don't typically have these giant warehouses. But can I see manufacturers contracting with more regional/local 3PLs to provide accelerated delivery? Sure.

Ok, that's enough for here. I just scratched the surface of these analyst predictions - we'll provide some additional detail in next week's OnTarget newsletter.

Any reaction to these 2015 supply chain analysts predictions? Have any predictions of your own you can share? Do you think 50% of current supply chain executives will be gone by 2015? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button or section below.

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