Blockchain emerged as one of nine technologies research firm Gartner believes are key technologies influencing supply chain innovation this year. It’s still very early days for blockchain, which companies are beginning to explore as a way to enhance security, automation and transparency in their supply chains, Gartner said.
A form of distributed ledger technology, blockchain is being viewed as a countermeasure against counterfeiting, especially by luxury brands deeply invested in ensuring consumers are purchasing the real thing and not a cheap or harmful knockoff. LVMH is reportedly working with blockchain consultancy ConsenSys to develop a proprietary supply chain-tracking blockchain to trace luxe wares from the likes of Berluti, Loro Piana and Givenchy.
In a nod to fashion’s growing interest in blockchain’s potential, startup Lukso believes it’s only a matter of time before apparel brands embrace widespread digitization, both within the enterprise and culturally at large, and enable consumers to enjoy fashion both in the real world and in the digital sphere. In the sneaker resale sector specifically, blockchain is emerging as an opportunity to protect buyers and sneaker collectors flipping coveted kicks for what can be a very significant profit.
Christian Titze, research vice president at Gartner, described several practical applications for blockchain technology.
“Organizations might use blockchain to track global shipments with tamper-evident labels, allowing a reduction in the time needed to send paperwork back and forth with port authorities and improved counterfeit identification,” he said in a release outlining the trending supply chain technologies.
Most of the eight tech trends on its list haven’t yet gone fully mainstream, Gartner pointed out, but have potential for “broad industry impact.”
“These technologies are those that supply chain leaders simply cannot ignore,” according to Titze. He went on to say that these innovations “will disrupt people, business objectives and IT systems” if they’re adopted by 50 percent of the biggest global players within half a decade.
By now, most of the tech on Gartner’s list are familiar to anyone tasked with overseeing corporate supply chains. For example, advanced analytics isn’t new to the scene, Titz said, but decision-makers cannot overlook its implication for supply chains.
“They will help organizations become more proactive and actionable in managing their supply chains, both in taking advantage of future opportunities and avoiding potential future disruptions,” he explained.
Companies are also investigating the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve customer service, better manage logistics and make their supply more available to demand, Titze added, while some are using robotic process automation to improve manual data entry error rates and repetitive keying—tasks with little added value for human employees.
“We are seeing a significant reduction in process lead times [when] RPA technology is used to automate the creation of purchase and sales orders or shipments, for instance,” Titze noted.
Well timed with recent news that Google parent company Alphabet’s Wing service is embarking on drone deliveries in Virginia, Gartner believes artificial intelligence (AI)-powered “autonomous things” like delivery bots and drones are set to shift the burden of certain difficult, risky or labor-intensive tasks from people to inanimate objects. Titze said, “The once distant thought of reducing time for inventory checks by using drones’ cameras to take inventory images, for instance, is here.”
There’s been considerable chatter in supply chain circles recently about the growing role of the “digital twin” in planning and forecasting demand scenarios. Gartner said this tech trend helps companies map out every facet of the supply chain from products, customers and markets to distribution centers/warehouses, plants, finance, attributes and weather to gauge the impact of virtually every possible variable.
“Digital supply chain twins,” Titze said, “are inevitable as the digital world and physical world continue to merge.”
The digital twin trend relies heavily on yet another advancement tapped for inclusion on Gartner’s list: AI. “AI can enhance risk mitigation by analyzing large sets of data,” Titze explained, adding that AI employs natural language processing and self learning so that it’s “continuously identifying evolving patterns, and predicting disruptive events along with potential resolutions.”
Rounding out the list is what Gartner identifies as “immersive experience,” or what technologies like augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) can enable. However, Gartner includes “conversational systems” under the immersive umbrella for its ability to change how people engage with their surroundings.
“Immersive user experiences will enable digital business opportunities that have not yet been fully realized within global supply chains,” Titze said, adding that factories could use AR together with QR codes and mobile devices to quickly switch equipment in and out of production lines.