CSA Exclusive: IBM identifies five key supply chain trends for 2021

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture

Retailers should focus their strategic supply chain activities in areas including customer experience and automation in the upcoming year.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Jonathan Wright, managing partner - service line leader, IBM Services, to gain insight into the technologies and processes retailers should integrate into their supply chains during 2021. As retailers continue to adapt their supply chains to the unexpected surges and shocks of COVID-19 and sociopolitical upheaval, Wright advises they align their supply chains with the trends of customized customer experiences, self-learning operations, agile operating models, transparent and ethical networks, and dynamic computing configuration.

Following are summaries of Wright’s thoughts on each trend.

Customized customer experiences: “With the new generation of consumer expecting to order what they want, when they want, from wherever they want, hyper-personalized buying experiences are becoming the norm. Supply chains need to deliver differentiation through radical customer customization, with the customer experience integral to virtually all operational touchpoints.”
Self-learning operations: “Supply chains should strive for autonomy, with connected devices and assets that understand the current state, learn, and take action accordingly. This next-generation approach to supply chain planning uses artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to sense and respond to change, maintain continuity during disruptions, foster constant collaboration between disparate teams and external partners, and shift from demand response to predictive demand creation.”
Agile operating models: “Agile operating models can provide near-instant insights in support of an organization’s workforce, ecosystems, and fluid work unit teams. For example, to help gain an accurate view of inventory positions and optimize vaccine allocation, stakeholders will need a supply chain that is bolstered by advanced technology like AI to identify early warning signs of disruption from external data, optimize orders based on critical need, and manage inventory reallocation and prioritization.”
Transparent, ethical networks: “Blockchains can enable cross-industry, multi-enterprise networks to provide shared visibility into trusted data that can drive insights and decisions. When connected with the supply chain, Blockchain networks can also remove transactional blind spots between partners, reduce order errors, and improve dispute resolution.”
Dynamic computing configuration: “These environments—hybrid cloud, platforms, and edge—can provide responsive data insights and security.  For example, all of the incredible work it takes to create a vaccine like this could be undermined by bad actors, counterfeiters and the threat of cyberattacks. This information and level of threat is not new; however, the effects of a global pandemic have brought a new appreciation of the risk and potential impacts.”