Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2017
This time of year, you might be of two minds. You’re excited about the upcoming year and the possibilities of new projects, job opportunities, and maybe a vacation to someplace warm. But you've also read articles aplenty about automation affecting supply chain jobs, some segments of the economy are still struggling, we’re always a black swan event away from disaster and, oh yeah, there’s a new president on the way with some very different ideas. Welcome to the new normal!
Don’t despair, for there are many positives ahead. The Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, cloud technology, and robotics have all made their way along Gartner’s Hype Cycle curve and are now in operation. 3D printing is growing and machine learning/AI is picking up steam, as are driverless vehicles, drones, and VR. Even the political front has bright possibilities, with Trump’s infrastructure plan, tax reductions, and possible repatriation of foreign profits having the potential to light a fire under the economy. Things are looking up, right? Well, yes and no.
eCommerce transactions are increasing like wildfire, but its orders are small and warehouses are huge. That means the use of robots is growing for order picking. And you know those cute little Amazon drones? Well, they’ll be delivering your orders at some point. And the driverless vehicles you’ve read about that sounded so futuristic? Well, they’ve already been tested for over-the-road truckload shipping, so they’ll be transporting inventory to those warehouses at some point. Both IoT and Big Data have myriad applications across consumer and business segments, with one significant result being dramatically better predictive maintenance and fewer breakdowns. That means less operational support and fewer customer service people. And with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning being applied to everything from application development to supply chain planning, the squeeze is on for skilled supply chain workers and managers as well.
It’s not all gloom and doom, as there are plusses and minuses for every newly implemented technology. In the past, automation has eliminated some jobs but also created many more, resulting in net job gains. Will that continue? It depends. So if, for example, you drive a truck, perform a manual process, or use spreadsheets to analyze demand and forecast inventory requirements, you might want to do a little research to understand how your job will change over the next few years and what you can do if you’re at risk. Heck, the logistics industry needs to hire over a million workers over the next couple years, so it’s not all going away. On the positive side, robots and drones require maintenance, analysts are needed to understand and put to use the huge volumes of data generated by IoT sensor devices, procurement specialists who are able to utilize network solutions will be in demand, and innovation will continue to churn out solutions that will generate new roles for folks who are automated out of existing positions.
For the consumer, 2017 should look very bright, indeed. Businesses will provide faster and faster deliveries, better forecasting and planning will result in fewer stock-outs, retailers are getting their acts together to provide better omnichannel shopping experiences, and visibility will improve from beginning to end. That all sounds wonderful, but be forewarned that it won’t be a smooth process. As they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and the cost for progress may be a shift in the number and types of supply chain jobs. Automation is on the way and there’s turbulence ahead!