Imagining the Supply Chain of 2030

Kristen Daihes Partner
Read Time: 5 minutes apprx.

Andy Picture MT 3 Web


I had the opportunity to join the Supply Chain Insight Global Summit last week in Arizona.  As expected, this summit did not disappoint.  Lora Cecere has a knack for pushing practitioners, vendors, and consultants outside of their comfort zone.  She uses data to weave a story about reality that we cannot refute, and then provokes us to imagine the possibilities of a 2030 supply chain.  I do not believe it is possible to leave this event without taking on personal responsibility to be a driving force in this change.

I share some of my enlightened moments.  May they inspire you to consider the possibilities within your organization, and move you to take action.

  • Rebuilding Relationships. We explored how the focus on making transactions more efficient in organizations has seemed to degrade relationships throughout an organization, pushing waste back into the system.  In fact, 88% of companies in Lora’s Supply Chains to Admire research are not driving value.  While they have invested heavily in technology and systems, their supply chains have struggled to adapt to accommodate increasing globalization and complexity.  The summit reinforced to me that the functional excellence focus has indeed taken so many companies backward into their silo’s and people are looking to data and analytics to help drive insights that used to be easily observable to connected people.  They are looking to close the gaps of their backward moves versus embracing innovation by connecting the unconnected.  The companies that are driving value focus on purposeful adaptation with concrete strategy to enable the experimentation.


  • The Power of Analytics. The most thoughtful response to what the digital supply chain looks like was “clarity of information without human bias.”  There is a lot to unpack in that statement.  Imagine the possibility of starting your workday in the morning with the output of algorithms telling you why you stocked out of certain products and being able to immediately operate in solution mode versus launching a fact-finding mission in history.  This is already a reality in many companies by leveraging advanced analytics in their organization.  Keith Nash of Lennox International shared that his company is already building engines to actively manage master data management in an autonomic way – the system is the process.  The early adopters of analytics are creating value within their enterprises – don’t be left behind.


  • A Requirement as an Enabler. Howard Fuller of Amyris shared his company’s inspirational story in using synthetic biology to create alternative supply sources for customers that offer a more reliable and stable supply chain.  He likened the journey to the difference between looking at sustainability requirements as an enabler versus a constraint.  What are some of your supply chain requirements, and what possibilities can be created by thinking through the lens of these requirements as an enabler versus a constraint?


  • Technology as an Enabler. Jim Lawton of Rethink Robotics, Inc. shared his vision of the future using collaborative robots.  What kind of jobs can be created with this new technology?  Jim believes AI will be leveraged in fundamentally different ways:
    • Enabling digital manufacturing by internalizing the task to get to outcome versus following steps
    • Orchestrating parts of factories – shifting to JIT operations versus planning with more real-time optimization using unstructured data

In the face of more technology innovation, companies are becoming more conservative.  They are waiting to see what their competitors do first, particularly in leveraging new technology, shifting away from a bell curve to a heavy tail on laggards with a small tail of leaders in experimentation and adoption. Which side do you want to be on?

  • Evolution of the Planner Role. Jeremiah Owyang, the Founder of Crowd Companies, said we are moving into the Autonomous World Era and much of traditional supply chain roles will be done through cognitive learning.  Irfan Khan, the CEO of Bristlecone, said the ability for supply chains to sense and respond in an autonomous way will fundamentally change the day in the life of planners and companies who embrace this change will be able to unlock value as they pivot this talent into new frontiers.  Imagine the role of a planner will be to assess the output of algorithms and be a thought partner in the creation of new business models, ahead of competition.  Think about the creation of a “network planner” with a broad enterprise mindset, collapsing traditional roles to drive “what-if scenarios” using cloud computing and concurrent optimization, in a world of self-correcting supply chains.


  • Talent.  Almost every company is on a journey to build an internal analytics group, or wanting to, but even the ones that claim to have strong internal groups are partnering with external service providers.  Very few seem to have cracked the code for building out a self-sustaining internal analytics team.  Early adopters are augmenting their talent early in their journey, finding partners who can help them enable the experimentation within their organization to jumpstart their journey into the future.

Do not wait for others to innovate and then fast-follow.  Put yourself out there.

Success hinges on the ability of supply chains to adapt, with an emphasis on the orchestration across an organization, as supply chains are continually faced with changing business models.  Think about supply chain as a fee, a complete service model with competitors collapsing to create shared supply chains.  How would you need to compete to survive and succeed in this future?  Move out of your comfort zone and begin to experiment in the world of possibility to drive value within your organization.  Jump into the now emerging Autonomous World Era, or be left behind.