AS ONE WHO’S BEEN IN THIS INDUSTRY FOR SEVERAL
decades, it is interesting to look at the past, present, and, in a limited
way, future of supply chain management. And what a ride it’s been.
As evidence of how the field has changed over the past 30-plus years,
consider that one of its leading professional organizations changed its
name not once but twice in that period to reflect members’ shifting
responsibilities—progressing from the National Council of Physical
Distribution Management (NCPDM) to the Council of Logistics
Management (CLM) and finally to the Council of Supply Chain
Management Professionals (CSCMP) in 2005.
In many companies, the road to change was rocky. “Supply chain”
meant different things to different people, and the
organizational structures reflected that. For many
managers, titles changed but responsibilities did
not. For others, it was exactly the opposite. Finally,
in 2003, CLM (now CSCMP) developed a definition
of supply chain management that was intended to
clear up the confusion. It reads as follows:
“Supply chain management encompasses the planning and management of all activities involved in
sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics
management activities. Importantly, it also includes
coordination and collaboration with channel partners,
which can be suppliers, intermediaries, third-party
service providers, and customers. In essence, supply
chain management integrates supply and demand management within
and across companies.”
The definition emphasizes coordination and collaboration, which
have become critical to supply chain management. You will notice,
however, that there is no mention of technology, which, in my opinion, has become the driving force behind today’s supply chains.
Very quickly, we have moved beyond the basics of transportation,
warehousing, inventory management, and purchasing to a much
more sophisticated playing field that’s powered by technology. And in
today’s world, technology no longer just means warehouse management, transportation management, and order processing systems; it
has also come to include what are known as “disruptive technologies.”
What are the major disruptive technologies in the supply chain? In
a Jan. 27 conference call conducted by Stifel Capital Markets, Steve
Sashihara, CEO of Princeton Consultants, identified five technologies
that are affecting transportation and logistics. They are as follows:
b Drones. Already being used in several industries, unmanned aircraft
have a future in supply chain deliveries if issues with weight capacity
BY CLIFFORD F. LYNCH fastlane
Wanted: Modern supply chain
and energy consumption can be resolved.
b Self-driving/autonomous trucks. In light of the
long-standing truck driver shortage, self-driving
vehicles could have a very bright future.
b “Uber for freight.” This is not a new idea, but
today’s technology makes online freight scheduling a more economical and efficient process.
b The Internet of Things. Thanks to sensors
and other smart devices, forklifts, packages,
tractors, trailers, and robots can now communicate with each other, making human intervention less necessary.
b Big data. The past few
years have seen an explosion
in the amount (and types)
of data that are available to
supply chain managers. The
issue is not the volume of
information, however, but
what you do with it.
There are others Sashihara
did not mention. For example, 3-D printing, artificial
intelligence, blockchain, and
robotics in general certainly
qualify as disruptive technologies. And I think
we can safely say there are more to come.
What does all this mean for industry professionals? For one thing, it means that tomorrow’s supply chain managers will need to be
well versed in all the various supply chain
functions as well as the underlying technology.
It also means that today’s managers will need
to start devoting much more time to education than they’ve been used to. In the modern
supply chain environment, self-development
should be a top priority.
Clifford F. Lynch is principal of C.F. Lynch & Associates, a provider
of logistics management advisory services, and author of Logistics
Outsourcing – A Management Guide and co-author of The Role of
Transportation in the Supply Chain. He can be reached at cliff@