Supply Chain Automation in an Age of Disruption

I recently had an opportunity to give a panel presentation at Innovation Endeavor’s LINK Supply Chain Ecosystem Day. The panel focused on the future of the global supply chain during a time of continual disruption.

There was a palpable sense of urgency in the room. After all, challenges facing the supply chain today only seem to be growing. But, there was also a feeling of optimism regarding the diverse range of startups bringing game-changing supply chain solutions to life. Most importantly, valuable connections were formed for supply chain innovators and industry titans alike.

The world is changing rapidly. For the supply chain industry, the challenges of tomorrow are rapidly approaching, and for many, they have already arrived. LINK members all agreed that our current supply chain process is not equipped to deal with these challenges.

There is a trifecta of forces at play here, including:

  1. Increasing service requirements driven by E-Commerce.
  2. A sustained labor market squeeze due to high attrition and ongoing recruiting challenges.
  3. An ever-accelerating rate of consumer demand volatility makes the supply chain a strategic bottleneck to growth and profit.

Traditional optimization strategies will not solve these problems. Short-term hiring sprees are also no longer a solution for this increased demand and ongoing market volatility.

So how do we fix these growing problems?

Automation is Key

Among the dozen or so startups that gave presentations and demos, there is strong evidence that end-to-end supply chain management (E2E) and holistic automation will be a lynchpin for the supply chain of the future. Thankfully incredible progress has been made toward solving high-priority use cases across supply chain operations through automated technology solutions.

A few proposed solutions included:

  • Gatik is scaling driverless automation of middle mile delivery (i.e. DC to DC, DC to hubs, DC to stores) across hundreds of lanes for retailers. This will revolutionize omnichannel retailers’ ability to efficiently replenish their shelves and rebalance inventory to win the buy online pick up in store frontier.
  • Dextrous Robotics is building AI-powered precision movement robots to handle parcel truck unloading — one of the top three labor-intensive activities across all warehousing and fulfillment today.
  • Regrello is creating a No-Code platform for operators to quickly design and deploy applications to simplify and automate supplier coordination. Often, supplier engagement efforts fall short due to IT resourcing challenges. The No-Code revolution will continue to empower operators and democratize IT constraints.
  • Torch is building the only digital short-haul 3PL focused on lanes 50-550 miles. They’ve integrated with thousands of micro-carriers to unlock the hidden capacity to move these tricky loads.
  • Valdera is unlocking resilient and specialized supplier networks for companies to find the chemicals and raw material inputs they need to build the future of sustainable & branded products.

Collaborative Enterprise Solutions

It takes two to tango.

While startups are coming up with innovative supply chain automation solutions, enterprises must quickly step up and drive adoption. This requires the C-suite to better embrace and more proactively mandate the required operating model transformation required to truly embed next-generation automation tech into the core stack of day-to-day operations across processes, decisions, and the underlying data architecture.

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