What’s Hot and What’s Not in Supply Chain Management

Takeaways from NASCES 2022.

Executive Summary

In this blog, I’ll share recent observations from my time at NASCES, including:

  • The Hot: The rise of workflow in supply chain management.  
  • The Not So Hot: Why the path for AI may no longer be on the fast-track.
  • What’s Top of Mind: Digitization – the key question —what is it, exactly?
  • And Bleeding Edge: Soon, data clouds are going to reign.

Why NASCES Gets our Nod

Elementum has always made it a point to attend the North America Supply Chain Executive Summit (NASCES). It’s a well-attended event with several hundred supply chain leaders, consultants, and partners all converging at the Westin event center in North Shore Chicago. 

NASCES is also a favorite conference for me personally. It’s always well attended by leadership, the speakers are excellent, and the conversations tend toward the strategic.  This is also why Elementum has been a major sponsor at NASCES for the last several years, and why we chose this year’s event to unveil cloud-native process sharing for service management.

At the end of every conference week – especially the good ones — it’s always fun to recap the major themes. So without further ado, here are our takeaways from this year’s show:

What’s Hot?

Answer: Workflow

Coming out of two years of chaos, it seems like everyone is eager to add (or address) more responsive and resilient structure for their supply chain operations. Not that email chains, shared inboxes, and excel trackers were ever really “in-style,” or even broadly acknowledged as a default, but we can safely say now that asynchronous tools and siloed information are no longer considered acceptable. Instead, leaders want visibility and accountability. They want a single source of truth that maps the steps of every process, assigns ownership, and defines due dates. Comprehensive and comprehensible are where it’s at. 

Beyond the basics, everyone wanted more automation in their workflows. Real-time analytics to identify bottlenecks and trends were also regarded as must-haves. So I expect we’ll soon see every supply chain solution add “workflow” to their suite of offerings. Simpler will be better. Don’t expect supply chain teams to wait for IT though. No-code providers will be more likely to win the day here.

What’s Not?

Answer:  Artificial intelligence (“AI”)

It wasn’t long ago that every conversation started with “what’s your AI?” Not anymore. It’s still safe to say that AI will play an important role for supply chain in the future. In fact, for some applications — like warehouse picking — it already has. But, AI’s utility and growth-arc for supply chain will probably continue gradually. Where the data is clean and accessible, we’ll see opportunities for computer generated insights. As more supply chain data moves to the data cloud, the quality “surface area” for AI to penetrate and leverage will grow. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other innovation to unlock.

If you were surprised not to see blockchain at the top of our “cooling off” list — you’re not wrong. …But you are a little late. Blockchain was all the craze circa 2015-2016, but supply chain operators realized earlier than most (~2018) that blockchain use cases weren’t yet ready for prime time.

What’s Top of Mind?

Answer: Digitization

Most supply chains were in survival mode for the better part of 2020-2021. Now that everyone has had a chance to breathe, the general consensus remains, that any respite we can get will be short lived. First, almost everyone recognizes that the pandemic didn’t create supply chain problems, but rather, exposed them. Second, also no surprise to anyone: things aren’t going to get any easier. From natural disasters, to geopolitical threats, to consumer expectations, serious headwinds are all still swirling out there. 

But there seems to be a general agreement that the particular strengthening / reinforcement needed to steer through these storms is “digitization.” That word was certainly displayed on every presentation I saw. Of course, what digitization really means is still debatable. Generally speaking, there did seem to be a consensus that digitization equates to technology. For some – the less adventorous I’d note – this might mean adding the latest module to their ERP. For others, it may mean more capable workflow, as we’ve noted, with an eventual path to artificial intelligence. 

I’d argue that digitization also requires actual innovation — which doesn’t work so well with software from the 1990s.  In any case, a lot of CSCOs are building their digitization playbooks.  Most will be well served to push for a deeper sense of what this term can mean – and the fullest possible exploration of the advantages that digitization can provide.

What’s Bleeding Edge?

Answer: Data Clouds

By data clouds, I mean the big cloud providers, like AWS, Azure, and Snowflake. It seems now that everyone (even in supply chain) has become familiar with cloud technology and cloud hosting. However, only a few people have caught on that the big data clouds have been introducing next-generation technologies that can bring life-changing benefits to supply chain. And yes, these capabilities should be considered when one sets out to define what “digitization” can mean for your operation. The ability to share data and processes seamlessly within the cloud changes what’s possible. Imagine a world where supply chain data is available in real-time with zero integrations. It’s not clear yet when these technologies will become mainstream, but it makes sense to keep a close watch, at the least!

Next Year in AZ

After several years in Chicago, the conference is moving to Phoenix for 2023. It will be interesting to see where supply chain is at a year from now, and how these key items will evolve and interweave. We’re living through a time of immense consequence and opportunity: and we think innovators who stay at the forefront of these macro-changes will thrive. We’ll be back next year with another round up, and also take a look at how our predictions have fared. See ya then!

David Blonski

David Blonski

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