The pandemic forced supply chain operations to adapt to new consumer behaviors in 2020, and Mahesh Veerina, CEO of Cloudleaf, comments that their evolution will continue into 2021. He anticipates changes in three areas and offers insights that ISVs and software developers will find valuable when designing solutions to help their supply chain clients meet new demands.
The acceleration of e-commerce buying behaviors spurred by the pandemic will necessitate soft asset tracking and a new digital standard to enable more agile supply chain operations.
“The e-commerce boom has completely changed the last mile distribution and how products are distributed to customers,” says Veerina. “The sudden increase in online shoppers, including purchases for both shipping and in-store or curbside pickup, fueled the need for supply chain entities to adopt new digital touchpoints to help deliver products both safely and efficiently.”
Veerina says to look for changes in last-mile distribution as larger retail sellers move from operating through large distribution centers to utilizing stores as drop-off points and act as micro warehouses to complete micro fulfillment operations.
“However, unlike distribution centers, stores are not equipped with the necessary software to track assets — which is vital for products that require cold chain storage, such as grocery items,” he says. “In 2021, supply chain organizations will require continuous, real-time visibility to gain access to valuable insights — such as the location, environmental conditions and temperature of products — in order to optimize inventory, planning and logistics, as well as keep up with ever-increasing e-commerce demands and mitigate risk.”
Technology advances like digital twin, AI/ML, and IoT will enable more granular tracking and impact the end-consumer experience.
Internet of Things (IoT) has become a ubiquitous technology for supply chain tracking purposes, but Veerina points out that, recently, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and digital twin technology have also risen in relevance for the industry. “In this strategy shift, we will see the gaps of visibility close where the supply chain has remained most weakened even with the use of IoT alone, such as in low coverage areas when product is in flight, adding critical value to pharmaceutical and food supply chains, which lose billions annually in spoiled products,” Veerina says. “We can expect to see this visibility get even stronger as 5G takes complete shape most likely in 2022, offering more connection and even more to-the-minute information.”
Supply chain operations leverage technology for deeper insights and prescriptive and predictive analytics.
Veerina says the need for more real-time insights throughout the supply chain will continue to grow in 2021, “especially as supply chain organizations re-evaluate their operations as a result of sudden changes in buying behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“They will upgrade from current, descriptive and prescriptive analytics, and leverage predictive analytics — which provide recommended actions before an incident occurs based on previous actions,” he says.”
“Often, companies experience a mess of silos and fragmentation due to being acquired by large companies that have different systems. In 2021, supply chain stakeholders will look to deploy digital twins across all modules as an extra layer of visibility and to ensure synchronization between a company’s existing systems and new technology, such as sensors and nanosensors, which are coming to market in increasingly larger volumes,” Veerina adds.
“Beginning in 2021, companies will start to employ a concerted strategy around these technologies to construct a complete and real-time picture of products as they move through the supply chain, as well as to obtain insights to make informed business decisions,” Veerina says.