2015 was big for supply chains, electronic commerce, and all the technologies ec-bp.com readers follow. Around this time last year, I wrote that we’d see lots of interest in cloud technology, omnichannel consumers, driverless vehicles, robotics, drones, 3D printing and, most importantly, Big Data and IoT. In retrospect, that was like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. We indeed witnessed high levels of activity for all those topics, but allow me to make a few quick observations......
During 2015, 'the cloud' seems to have settled into its place as a ‘mainstream’ technology option. It’s no longer ‘out there’, but is now just another option IT professionals consider in architecting systems and applications. Big Data has become so important to so many different endeavors (agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, etc.) that it’s no longer treated by Gartner as a separate technology and has been eliminated from its 'Hype Cycle'. Omnichannel customers and ecommerce in general continued to drive changes in many areas, especially those of interest to our readers in the supply chain. From network design, to forecasting, logistics, distribution, and everything in between, if you didn’t have your act together for customers purchasing through multiple channels, you had problems.
Autonomous vehicles, 3D printing (3DP), robotics, and drones were also consistently in the news throughout the year. All made significant progress along the hype cycle and had considerable impacts on the supply chain and IT shops. I have to admit I shortchanged driverless vehicles a bit, yet they've already begun to change the thinking on the logistics front for many companies. I also suspected drones in the fulfillment area to be an Amazon marketing ploy, but once I saw the beer delivery to the ice fishermen video (view it HERE) I jumped on board.
The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) took giant strides in 2015, as more consumer applications became available and industry began to implement projects. There are still security, standards, technology, and cost issues to work out, but the forecast for the number of connected devices has already been raised. Gartner now expects over 6 billion connections in 2016 and over 20 billion by 2020. Hope they get those issues worked out soon!
So, what’ll be important to us in 2016? It’s pretty easy to predict that the hot topics from 2015 will continue forward. I don’t think failure is an option for any of them. In addition, wearable tech has been around for awhile but is now poised to be introduced into supply chain processes, and virtual reality (or enhanced reality) technology is getting a lot of attention and investment. We'll see new applications of those technologies that should blow us away. Autonomous vehicles and drones have a great chance to disrupt logistics by reducing costs and improving scheduling/routing processes. Omnichannel consumers aren’t going away and retailers (especially) will need to adapt to survive. However, omnichannel isn't as much of a disruptive force as the tech plays are, but is more a trend that requires adjustments to existing processes and technologies.
By far, though, the greatest impact to supply chains will be the result of IoT development and its convergence with Big Data and the cloud. On the consumer side, lots of home-oriented products will come on line and they'll be gushed over in many articles, but the bulk of the disruptive effect of IoT innovation will be on businesses. Reading about how major companies use sensors and analytics to identify maintenance issues and opportunities to improve the operation of machinery may not raise your heartrate, but that’s an example of how IoT will enhance manufacturing and operational capabilities, save billions in costs, and generally remove latency and friction from processes. Individual industrial IoT implementations may not be as explosively disruptive as, for example, the birth of the internet, but if you play it out into the future you can imagine the possibilities.
So, there you have it: more of the same for 2016, with increasing use of driverless vehicles, some actual drone deliveries, wearable tech and VR finding themselves in DCs, more applications for 3DP, increasing use of robotics as wages rise and tech costs drop, and ongoing tweaks to supply chains everywhere driven by omnichannel consumers. The big noise, though, is what I’m really looking forward to: the dynamite combination of IoT, Big Data, and cloud technology that’ll unleash a hyper-connected supply chain.
Happy Holidays, everyone!