Coming soon to a supply chain near you: 8 big digital disruptors

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Every day it seems as if one company or another is touting they’ve just released the next big thing—that new device that will change your life. In reality, all this emerging tech, whether it’s turning your world upside down or not, is having a very real impact on how businesses manage their supply chains. None is feeling the effects more pointedly than those in consumer packaged goods (CPG), as all this new technology has fundamentally altered the way consumers research and shop for products. That in turn is changing how organizations are manufacturing and delivering goods. As John S. Phillips, SVP of Customer Supply Chain & Global Go-To-Market for PepsiCo shared during his keynote presentation at the Gartner Executive Supply Chain Conference, this digital revolution presents enormous challenges and opportunities across the end-to-end consumer value chain. He outlined eight emerging technologies that are most likely to drive dramatic changes across the CPG supply chain.

1. Connected home

You won’t just find smart devices in futuristic TV shows anymore. Odds are there’s one within arm’s reach of you right now. But smartphones aren’t the only device turning your home into something straight out of The Jetsons. Already on the market, Samsung has released a refrigerator that lets you see its contents in real-time directly from your phone or the in-door display panel. HP has a printer that can order ink and have it shipped directly to your door automatically. Whirlpool has a washing machine that does the same thing with laundry detergent.

Key points:

  • Evaluate IoT connectivity to gain new insights into your customers
  • Look to consumer and home IoT devices for inspiration on commercial applications
  • Assess your company’s ability to read, warehouse and act on IoT demand signals
  • Leverage new consumer and demand insights to rethink your supply chain

2. IoT at retail

Homes aren’t the only thing getting smarter. Retail is upping its game too. With advances like smart shelves that have sensors detecting stock in real-time and cameras in refrigeration coolers to ensure stock, the right product mix and brand display alignment, the race to capture customer data is heating up. Phillips gave an example of how PepsiCo is using cameras in display fridges that send real-time pictures to their team. The team checks for things like stock outs or foreign products, but the crux has been how to take that data and turn it into actionable insights for field teams. That depends on alerts managed autonomously, and Phillips has already seen them in action. He relayed how he saw a demo of true shelf-aware systems at a retail location that sends alerts in real-time when a stock out happens directly to a mobile phone.

Key points:

  • Take visibility beyond dashboards to true shelf-aware systems
  • Consider infrastructure requirements in store design and within supplier systems
  • Collaborate with trading partners to unlock the full capability of retail IoT
  • Think beyond scorecards and dashboard and work toward autonomous interventions

3. In-store robotics

Taking things beyond just smart shelves and cameras, robots are already roaming the aisles of select stores, doing their part in ensuring quality and great customer service. These retail robots can scan and track on-store inventory at rates far exceeding what any human worker could accomplish, capturing data on up to 20,000 products an hour. Simbe Robotics’ Tally is one such retail robot. It traverses large brick and mortar retail environments to capture, report and analyze the state and availability of merchandise, and help ensure compliance with the store's planogram – the ideal placement of products on shelves in order to maximize sales. Tally performs the repetitive and laborious tasks of auditing shelves for out-of-stock items, low stock items, misplaced items and pricing errors.

Key points:

  • Create new opportunities to improve customer service with robots
  • Automate manual processes
  • Gain near real-time insights with image recognition and cloud processing technology
  • Evaluate processes within your organization that could benefit from autonomous robots

4. Crowdsourced delivery

In the way that Uber has transformed passenger transportation, similar companies are doing the same thing for product and package delivery. Companies like InstaCart and Shipt offer last mile grocery delivery so you don’t ever have to go to the grocery store again. Roadie connects people hitting the road with stuff that needs to get delivered for cheaper, friendlier (according to them) service. The number of websites and apps providing delivery from restaurants seems nearly endless. Manufacturers are getting in on the action as well, splitting shipping costs with competitors to ensure trucks don’t go out half-filled. The gig economy is providing limitless opportunity.

Key points:

  • Explore crowd sourced delivery capabilities, they’re expanding nationally at a rapid pace
  • Evaluate partnerships to offer delivery of your products to consumers and businesses
  • Create sticky purchasing behavior with customers by offering robust delivery services
  • Expand sales by providing delivery services that increase the size of your trading area

5. Drones

Adding to those opportunities is the use of drones. It’s estimated drones could reduce delivery costs by 80-90%. But it isn’t just on goods delivery where drones are having an impact. Remarkably, air passenger drones are already set to take to the skies in Dubai this summer. These driverless, flying taxis are part of Dubai’s plan to have self-driving vehicles (of all kinds) account for a quarter of journeys made in Dubai by 2030. Ground delivery drones are also quietly kicking things into high gear, getting far less publicity than their airborne counterparts, but delivering big innovations for businesses.

Key points:

  • Realize aerial and ground drones are becoming a reality
  • Recognize drones have the potential to redefine the cost of last-mile logistics
  • Explore how drones can play a role within your international operations in terms of inventory and goods transport
  • Begin testing with key drone partners

6. Autonomous vehicles

Companies like OTTO, which produces self-driving vehicles designed to automate material transport and take your intralogistics to the next level, and Urban Aeronautics, which created the AirMule, an unmanned flying car used for search and rescue in areas otherwise too inaccessible to reach, are putting autonomous vehicles on the map. Beyond just driverless cars, autonomous trucks, travelling in convoys, could change the very face of logistics.

Key points:

  • Be aware autonomous vehicles are maturing globally at a rapid pace
  • Acknowledge aerial and truck formats have the potential to disrupt supply chains
  • Understand autonomous vehicles can improve transportation safety
  • Evaluate how and where autonomous vehicles can play a role in your organization

7. Virtualizing expertise

Imagine having all the information you need right at your fingertips—without having to pull out your computer or smartphone. Augmented reality is bridging the gap between humans and machines, letting us experience the real world in entirely new ways. Current real-world examples include service technicians who can use augmented reality to improve their on-the-job performance with full schematics overlaying the physical object they’re working on. Taking things even further, it’s allowing those same service techs to connect and share live what they’re seeing with experts anywhere in the world.

Key points:

  • Comprehend the impact advanced wearables are enabling new augmented reality capabilities
  • Improve profitability by enabling frontline workers with hands-free access to data
  • Provide transformational capabilities with remote expert tools
  • Identify and test applications and hardware in your environment

8. Artificial intelligence

Advancements in augmented reality are paving the way for even further human-machine collaboration. Artificial intelligence has the ability to revolutionize life, and your supply chain, as you know it. Prescriptive analytics and AI are providing the ability to machine learning to take place, ultimately culminating in a reality where AI-equipped machines are making and executing decisions regarding your supply chain.

Key points:

  • Begin planning your AI data foundation today to leverage emerging capabilities
  • Assess your organization’s data maturity and hygiene
  • Understand AI capabilities by exploring available resources like Google’s AI Experiments
  • Recognize the key to machine learning systems is the training that goes into them

Phillips says it’s time to think about extending your supply chain vision all the way to the consumer. That means identifying and adopting technologies that provide a competitive advantage. What steps is your organization taking to prepare for these digital disruptors? Let us know in the comments area.


Jason Rosing
- July 31, 2017 at 8:56am
From my experience as a supply chain systems integrator, supply chain leaders who are focused on sound process as well as selecting & properly implementing supply chain technology also understand that any investments & changes must focus on desired outcomes as well as the customer experience. It truly is a dynamic time in supply chain & it requires either highly qualified in house talent (which is hard to come by) or what we are seeing at Veridian: the increased use of outside experts to help navigate a landscape that is rapidly changing & full of technology pitfalls
Alexa Cheater
- July 31, 2017 at 11:32am
Thanks so much for your comment Jason. You're certainly correct that it's a dynamic time in supply chain. There are lots of challenges to overcome, but lots of opportunity as well!
- November 29, 2017 at 4:58am
The popularity for drone delivery is increasing in supply chain companies in UAE because of its great advantages of making successful last mile deliveries. Moreover, it will be time saving.
Alexa Cheater
- November 29, 2017 at 9:31am
Thanks for commenting Charu. I'd say that drone delivery isn't just increasing in the UAE, but globally, since as you noted, it has advantages for last mile delivery.
jyoti sharma
- May 18, 2018 at 2:52am
Great content thanks for sharing. The points mentioned above are rightly said. These technological advancements may provide a competitive advantage. Automated vehicles are the ones that have been in use now. As we also see in many SCI-FI movies. Driverless trucks machines, robots Will take up and hopefully add on to the value of supply chain. It will decrease manual handling.
Alexa Cheater
- May 25, 2018 at 8:36am
Thanks for the reply Jyoti!

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