Supply Chain 2015: Looking Back, Moving Forward

As 2015 comes to a close, it is important to reflect on what shaped the supply chain industry, and prepare for what is still to come. From a personal standpoint, 2015 was a fun and very informative year. As the editor of the Inventory and Supply Chain Optimization Blog, I made it my goal to supply entertaining and informative content that spurs further interest in the exciting fields of supply chain and logistics. Based on the 67% increase in users and 60% increase in sessions compared to 2014, I would say we achieved our goal.

Maintaining a blog requires a significant amount of inspiration from external sources, and in 2015 there was plenty of inspiration to go around. A couple of personal highlights that spawned several blog ideas were the events I attended. The European Supply Chain and Logistics Summit in Barcelona and the International Supply Chain Conference in Berlin showed me that innovation is taking center stage, and that logistics managers have a challenging and complex future ahead of them. 2015 was also the year I read Supply Chain Metrics That Matter from Lora Cecere, which helped me expand my knowledge of optimized supply chain processes.

Moving back to a more global perspective, a lot happened in 2015 within the industry, and a lot of change is on the horizon for 2016. Let’s have a look at some of the highlights:

Looking Back

When I think back on all the supply chain news wrap-ups I wrote for our blog, many buzzwords and topics that repeatedly made supply chain headlines come to mind, but three topics stood out to me the most:

Supply chain goes social

I believe 2015 is the year supply chain truly went social. With over 2,400 daily tweets containing the #supplychain hashtag, 3,000+ supply chain groups on LinkedIn and an increase in topic-specific social networks (BeetFusion included), a clear need has been identified. Supply chain and logistics professionals seem to want to increasingly exchange best practice information and collaborate in order to improve existing processes. An enormous amount of content is being produced on a daily basis to help managers stay up-to-date on the latest supply chain trends and developments.

Social media offers professionals an opportunity to connect with experts from across the world, but also goes beyond collaboration and information exchange. Recruiting, marketing, supplier relationship management, and the overall industry image were all enhanced through the expansion of these social channels in 2015.

Strong innovation in logistics

As mentioned in the introduction, logistics innovation really took center stage in 2015, especially in the last mile delivery space. Logistics giants such as Amazon and Uber have become household last-mile names, as Amazon continues to roll out its PrimeNow service and Uber banks on the expansion of the sharing economy for package delivery. It is, however, the small start-ups that didn’t receive as much of the spotlight as they deserve that are creating the most excitement. A few innovative logistics start-ups that made waves in 2015 include:

  • Doorman: Promise no more missed deliveries
  • Roadie: Carpooling for cargo
  • Deliveroo: Fixed-fee speedy food delivery

The innovative spirit shown by these start-ups needs to be captured, bottled up and carried over into 2016 in order to continue to drive excitement and advancement to the industry.

Transparency and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Shape Strategy

Although the shift from “nice-to-have” to “mandatory” regarding supply chain transparency started years ago, it became official and finalized in 2015. One example of this is the Modern Slavery Act, passed by the UK government earlier this year. In essence, British companies are now forced to publish evidence showing their supply chains do not depend on forced labor. This will of course require a high level of transparency along every step of the chain. A similar act was passed in California in 2010 and it has had a major global impact. The effects on businesses in the UK will surely be monitored in 2016.

Most recently, the topic of transparency and CSR in the supply chain was brought to the forefront by Nestle, after the company admitted to forced labor being used in its seafood supply chain in Thailand. The company is now working on a strategy to curb this practice in 2016.

Moving Forward

More transparency and sustainability initiatives

I believe 2016 will pick up where the top headline from Nestle left off in 2015: increased transparency, corporate social responsibility and better supplier relationship management. More maps will be offered to customers on websites, so they can view the journey their goods travelled before landing in their homes. There will be an increase in “behind the scenes” films, shedding light on supply chain processes.  More human rights training programs will be installed at strategic supplier locations. More companies will come forward with strategic sustainability plans and set targets that are to be reached by the year 2020 regarding emissions. All these aspects, as stated previously, are becoming “must-haves” for successful operations.

Technology and automation

Furthermore, technological advancements in the form of robots will continue to reshape manufacturing and warehouse facilities. For example, based on what I saw at some of the events I attended, I believe picking bots in large warehouses will become a reality, sooner rather than later; maybe not in 2016, but certainly by 2020. We will also see significant advancements in autonomous vehicles both in the logistics industry as well as in the private automobile sector. Will this be the answer to the widespread truck driver shortage? Only time will tell.

Planning in the cloud

Additionally, the migration of supply chain planning into the cloud will continue to expand and the implementation of advanced analytics to successfully plan across all supply chain functions will experience an upward trend.

Closing words

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It is an exciting time to be involved in the supply chain industry. I hope to continue to contribute articles and videos and spark conversation throughout 2016. I look forward to discussing future trends and best practice processes with you in the upcoming year. Until then, I wish everyone a happy holiday season, merry Christmas, and a successful (innovative) 2016.

What stood out to you most in 2015 and what are your supply chain predictions for 2016?

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