Challenging thoughts from IGD’s Supply Chain Summit

By Julie Cumberland

The message coming out of IGD’S Supply Chain Summit 2016 was loud and clear – ‘be prepared to be disrupted.’

More than 300 delegates heard from a range of supply chain experts about how the speed of technological innovation is impacting the industry and if they want to survive, they need to act today, not tomorrow.

It was clear the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) has landed faster than anticipated. Technology including Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and bio-tech are here and already disrupting the way we do things from driverless vehicles, drone deliveries and automated warehouse picking to data embedded barcodes and advanced predictive analytics. How we adapt that technology and leverage the data that comes with it is key to driving growth and smarter supply chains.

IGD’s Supply Chain Insight Manager, Darren Smillie, kicked off proceedings by telling delegates a quarter of supply chain jobs could be automated within 20 years, but in reality he said all supply chain jobs will need to adapt. “Too much change and you risk chaos, too little change and you will stagnate. Getting the right balance is key to growing your supply chain.”

Chris West, VP of commercial operations at Asda, explained how investing in people to leverage the technology available will drive better collaboration in the supply chain and deliver real value to the customer. “People are at the core of everything we do at Asda,” he said. “But the role of big data has increased and we need to be able to translate it to be more efficient and shop-customer savvy.”

Other highlights included:

  • The use of Graphene materials in the food supply chain. Graphene is the new ‘wonder’ material that could revolutionise packaging and keep food fresh for longer from Cambridge Nanosystems. It’s highly effective at killing bacteria (e.g., Escherichia coli) and claims to be a million times better at blocking moisture than current plastic packaging options.
  • The Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) UK initiative for developing Supply Chain talent. A cross-industry mentoring programme, ECR partners like-sized companies to provide bespoke development opportunities to our industry’s future talent.
  • The next step in autonomous delivery – Starship Robots could be making a delivery to you soon. A trial with Mercedes-Benz saw a whole robot fleet target local delivery zones.

Tarun Patel, Director of Supply Chain at IGD for the food and grocery research and training charity, said “the Summit highlighted the need for people and innovation to pave the way for achieving profitable growth in 2017 and beyond.”

From the key findings on the day, we highlighted three ‘As’, which when adopted equal excellence. The first is ‘Accept’, meaning the industry needs to accept the future is happening now, and not tomorrow. Companies must be early movers and ensure their innovations are meeting customer needs now. Discussions were around the physical world meshing into the digital future and the importance of finding new areas of growth. Everything starts with customers, and companies need to be clear about who they are appealing to.

Next, we learnt the need to ‘Adapt’. Companies are deepening category management processes in supply chains and businesses need to prepare for trade-offs between functions and moving responsibilities. We also found that you can use existing assets, and revolution doesn’t necessarily mean success. If companies change the way they approach challenges based on the evolution of the market, they will be able to use technology and people further.

The final ‘A’ is the need to ‘Accelerate’. We discovered that looking outside of traditional remits in supply chains will add new value to businesses, and companies should be bold and take risks so that if they do fail, they can move on quickly. Adopting this new way of thinking will help companies get things done faster and more efficiently. Finally, we learnt that it is essential to be a disrupter, or be prepared to be disrupted.

iTradeNetwork is a proud sponsor of the IGD Supply Chain Summit 2016.