The Future is Now—You Just Haven’t Realised It Yet

No, this isn’t the start of a revolutionary speech. But if it was, it could only be the digital revolution, which has been the talking point of supply chain literature and papers for decades. And therein lies the issue: we are numb to it.

Earlier this month, we asked you to imagine a city lit up with electronics, sensors, and actuators from which the supply chain could draw a constant stream of data. A great deal of you read this article, but to many, this futuristic vision and the concept behind it belongs in the realms of science-fiction, somewhere Deckard might duck and dive in his hunt for Replicants.

Such a city would be populated with a network of sensors, enabling the detection of everything from people smoking in unauthorised zones to litter thrown from high-rise buildings. Meanwhile, road sensors, phased traffic lights, and smart parking would quite literally drive a world-leading transport and mobility network.

And it would revolutionise the way we think about and manage supply chains.

The digital revolution has been the talking point of supply chain literature and papers for decades. And therein lies the issue: we are numb to it.

This city is Singapore and it is not a fiction or an anomaly. From Barcelona and San Francisco to London, city-wide networks are very real, and enterprises operating across them could be working with their logistics provider to improve efficiencies and create revenue opportunities today.

Cutting through the jargon

For other supply chain directors, it is not the plausibility of a smart city or similarly exciting technology that is the challenge, but what this actually means in the context of their operations.

‘Smart cities’ and ‘the Internet of Things’ have become buzzwords, corporate jargon often used to further a conversation with little or no thought around their implications and how they can be used to develop supply chains.

Singapore’s traffic sensors have enabled it to reduce congestion and improve the average speed travelled by cars on the main roads, for example, demonstrating how the application of interconnected systems can be used to generate insights with observable benefits.

‘Smart cities’ and ‘the Internet of Things’ have become buzzwords, with little or no thought around how they can actually be used to develop supply chains.

Depending on your supply chain’s operational requirements, the IoT can be used in a number of ways.

Improving operational efficiencies

Enterprises struggling with visibility might be interested to learn that they could be tracking every move a product makes using RFID and GPS sensors. Data is not restricted to geographic sets, either: temperature, time spent in storage, and even shelf time can all be logged and collated to provide invaluable product insights, from quality control and delivery speed to who handled the product and when.

If you have ever stood in one of your warehouses and dreamed of robotics (or even just a more efficient way of managing warehousing operations), robotics technology in use today could enable you to reduce staffing levels while improving the speed at which stock is picked from the shelves. Tracking inventory use can reveal trends in demand or low supply levels, enabling you to adjust the supply chain so your customers never go disappointed.

Enterprises struggling with visibility could be tracking every move a product makes using RFID and GPS sensors.

In much the same way that Singapore has used smart technology to transform its transport systems, enterprises are also developing connected fleets that feed data on everything from the carrier used and delivery status to journey times, providing mobility insights organisation can use to satisfy customer expectations.

Have you considered the limits of what is possible today?

From granular asset tracking and smart inventory management to more connected fleets, the IoT is already revolutionising the supply chain, enabling directors to meet and exceed operational and organisational goals—if they take the steps to understand these connected networks and where their supply chains fit into them.

As technology increases, so does the limit of what we can achieve with it. Research suggests that 70% of retail and manufacturing businesses have already begun to transform their supply chain processes, but how many have done so according to the limits of what is currently possible? And what of the 30% standing still, waiting for a future that is already here?

The operational efficiencies and revenue opportunities you dreamed about five years ago are a reality today. The biggest barrier now is your awareness of the solutions, and perhaps the limit to your imagination.

We talk a great deal about capacity, capability, agility and strategy. But what about possibility?

The future is now—you just hadn’t realised it yet.