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A Brave New Supply Chain World

Published April 8, 2020

Written by: Edmund Zagorin
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Edmund Zagorin

Edmund Zagorin is a procurement thought leader obsessed with the power of recommendations to fix broken processes and supply chains. Prior to founding Arkestro, Edmund worked as a consultant focused on data-driven supplier negotiations for large healthcare providers, contract manufacturers and multi-campus retail brands. Edmund is widely recognized as an expert on the emerging role of machine learning and artificial intelligence in procurement and has presented executive briefings on this topic to leadership teams.

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To understand long-term transformations in supply chain and procurement technology, supply chain professionals must be able to understand present trends so they can help shape future realities. Experts believe the following predictions are viable hypotheses that we should consider for 2030.

Predicting the Strategic Sourcing Technology Landscape in 2030

1)     Increase in Population: In 2030, there will be more people seeking cultural and political self-determination, financial stability and personal self-actualization. Population growth means more economic activity and expanded production capacity.This also creates a greater need for food, water, healthcare, housing and education.

2)    Extreme Weather: In 2030, the upper atmosphere will have warmed significantly. This so-called “Greenhouse Effect” will create more extreme weather. Because of hotter summers, colder winters and lethal storms, agricultural zones will be forced to shift. Fresh water will become more expensive.

3)    Rising Populism and Nationalism: In 2030, more people will gravitate to populist and nationalistic movements and build political coalitions. For culture, this means that membership in clubs, societies, unions and professional networks will become more important.It also  means that these organizations will more explicitly identify with economic and geopolitical agendas. For policy, it means that we can expect more tariffs, more walls and more trade disputes.

4)    More Refugees: In 2030, the number of people displaced by extreme weather and rising sea levels will have massively increased, while the number of countries willing to host refugees will decrease. Stateless and displaced people will continue to become economic migrants in wealthier countries and will struggle to claim recognition and political power.

5)    More Real-Time Data, More Real-Time Accountability: In 2030, the largest driving force for change will be the consumers, businesses and shareholders in wealthy countries who have access to data. These groups of people will be skeptical of business claims and will hold companies accountable by voting with their dollars. Consumer and shareholder activism will increase, in some cases driven by viral online outrage events that reverberate through vast global social networks.

This is a world where the stakes of business success cannot be overestimated, particularly when it comes to the supply chain. Based on these predictions, being bullish on complexity, chaos, ubiquitous data, ubiquitous computing from a management perspective and ubiquitous feedback loops (real or simulated) will be essential for supply chain success. 

Consumer opinion and preference will move from analysis of abstracted trends to analysis of large numbers of real people using connected devices in real-time. Companies will be expected to know the physical location of all inventory and shipment arrival time.

Wireless sensor networks (WSN) in logistics will automatically optimize lanes, allowing real-time response to weather events, changes in tariffs and current events. Business operations will live at the speed of the 24-hour news cycle and will be expected to take advantage of changing circumstances.

Procurement teams will be consultant strategists, analyzing and acting on large datasets concerning real-time demand and changes in the market. They will work with outsourced customer service teams to process buying requests in compliance with approval processes.

Predicting Strategic Sourcing Technology in 2030  

1)     Category-Focused B2B Marketplaces Using Hyperdynamic Pricing: Hyperdynamic pricing, driven by AI, is used today by travel websites like Expedia and Hopper. The price is updated in real-time relative to breaking news and responsive to buying patterns. For example, if a music festival announces a new location, plane tickets to that location may quickly become more expensive. In 2030, Hyperdynamic pricing engines, based on large-volume B2B marketplaces, will become the norm for most categories of spend.

2)    Cradle to Grave ESG Supply Chain Accountability: Corporate leaders, in solving the supply disruptions caused by bullwhips, can leverage demand to make price changes; however, with great power comes great responsibility. In 2030, as corporate boards respond to consumer concerns about deforestation, human slavery, and limiting exposure to infectious diseases or neurotoxic contaminations, the supply chain will come under greater scrutiny. It will also be a driving force that moves the ESG numbers shareholders care about.

3)    The Customer as Procurement Stakeholder: Think about how data moves through most enterprises today: customers buy things through a website. That data goes to business analysts, to sales, to operations, then to suppliers. As more businesses move to customized, made-to-order inventory, because of process mapping and mining, pressure is put onstakeholders to represent the voice of the customer.

In 2030, new data pipelines will enable customers to generate the specifications, evaluate the criteria, and establish the requirements for selecting and managing suppliers. As consumers become more data-driven in their buying habits and more particular about customization, brands will scramble for tools that can incorporate consumer participation directly into their supply chains through interactive web portals.

4)    Strategic Suppliers as Fully Integrated Partners: In 2030, as data from connected devices becomes more readily available and deliverable to ubiquitous interfaces, supplier partners will be brought further along into real-time visibility of sensitive operational data. As videoconferencing, distributed and remote workforces, and work-from-home cultures become normalized, more firms will use both a contingent workforce and integrated suppliers. They will operate more like part of the company’s internal team than as an external party.

5)    Sourcing Events: There is supported business evidence that sourcing events add value to a company. In 2030, they will become far more common. Sourcing events will have an arms race effect on CPOs buying the latest and greatest in digital sourcing technology. CPO’s will want to arm their category teams so that they are buying the latest and greatest CRM, targeted prospect research, and lead nurturing tools. CFOs will insist on a minimum number of sourcing events per year. Still, CMO’s, alongside corporate boards, must demand that procurement delight consumers with suppliers that can deliver on the company’s ESG goals. Sourcing event networking is the key.

Betting on Innovation

Predictions are, by their very nature, uncertain. A lot can change in 10 years. Startups like ours (Bid Ops) are notoriously fast paced. Our team tends to think in 30-, 60- and 90-day cycles using annual technology roadmaps. Sometimes, however, we find it advantageous to take the time to make long-term predictions using the following inputs to correct our own inherent biases:

1) What do forecasters tend to underestimate and overestimate?

2) What are the current supply chain trends? How might they affect the future?

3) What are the status quo pain points that can be solved by technology?

A Hopeful Future

There is no doubt that supply chains will look very different in 2030. It is the responsibility of procurement professionals in 2020 to know present trends and understand their impact on the future.  We need to embrace technology, but not at the expense of humanity. We need to continue to care about diversity, sustainability and societal impact. Education is now more than ever of the utmost importance. 

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