Buzz-word technologies like “cloud” and “mobile” have dominated top supply chain trends lists from organizations like Gartner, Forbes, and DC Velocity for 5 years. Back in 2013, our own supply chain experts started advising clients that these breakthroughs would have sharp growth curves due to the “immediate, measurable impact on productivity” for early adopters.

Today, those trends are now a reality. The digital supply chain is making logistics faster, more efficient, more accurate, and much cheaper. Breakthroughs in cloud, digital and mobile technology have spawned a new set of trends that will have a reverberating effect on the supply chain industry for years to come.

Here are the top 10 supply chain and warehousing trends for 2017:

1) Integrated Companies Will Grow the Fastest

Third-party integration tools have become more sophisticated and driven down the cost and timeline of integration. Reports now show that fully integrated companies are outpacing non-integrated companies by 20%. With the rise of open-source platforms, connecting all of your enterprise and best-of-breed systems is much easier.

Enterprise-wide system integration has produced gold in the form of business intelligence. Organizations are growing faster because all of their employees have access to better data. Information is readily available and automatically distributed, removing the hassle of searching within systems or having colleagues distribute reports. Connected organizations are outpacing non-connected companies because they are continually improving their internal processes with real-time data.

2) Limitless Mobile Options

The rules of mobility are always changing. Warehouse Management Systems are no longer bound by mobile operating systems offering limited hardware options. From iPhones and ring scanners to Android tablets, wedge scanners, and compact 2D barcode scanners, warehouses now have unlimited potential for mixing and matching mobile hardware. Outside of cost, user preferences like ease-of-use and ergonomic needs will be the most important factor in buying hardware.

3) Need for Better Data Security Will Drive People to the Cloud

As we noted earlier this year, the cloud is now the safest place for your data. Having an entirely reliable supply chain with near-perfect uptime is now an expectation. Organizations will no longer tolerate data security risks that may ground their operations for hours if not days. The security flaws of fragmented patches within on-premise systems will drive more CIOs to embrace the cloud for their most sensitive data.

4) Not Just Bigger Data, Deeper Data

The big data revolution has put real-time information in the hands of all employees, from dock workers to customer service representatives to the CEO. This small sample of business intelligence is driving a huge need for much more granular data. Organizations will look to dive deeper into data sources to produce labor, workload, operational, and demand analytics. Employees will look to act on this data in easily consumable ways, from graphical dashboards displaying real-time operational information on mobile devices to labor production statistics displayed prominently on large screens throughout their facility.

5) Predictive Analytics Start Producing

As the Harvard Business Review posted, significant investments in predictive analytics are dramatically improving forecasting accuracy in the area of consumer demand. By combining aggregate web-search data with buyer sentiment and location tracking, data scientists are beginning to draw much more accurate forecasts. This information will help build ultra-lean fulfillment organizations with optimized inventory levels at every point of their supply chain. With additional improvements to forecasting models in 2017, expect some risk-tolerant early adopters to experience significant revenue gains after a few early growing pains.

6) Better Contingency Planning Eliminates Disruptions

Hurricane Andrew was just one of an average 260 major natural disasters that take a $211 billion dollar toll on the global supply chain every year. Real-time location tracking and comprehensive field analytics are helping to minimize the inevitable disruptions caused by natural events. By integrating mobile sensor data with predictive analytics, organizations will be able to react swiftly to changing conditions as the situation unfolds. Companies will also seek to lessen their reliance on physical infrastructures so that they can maintain seamless operations in an emergency regardless of their physical location.

7) The Rise of Augmented Reality

Every football game on TV now includes a yellow first-down marker that appears to be on the playing field. To the players and the fans in the stadium, the line does not exist. But to people watching at home, it is part of the viewing experience. Thanks to sensor-driven technologies, this type of augmented reality will soon become common in warehouses. Pickers will soon wear glasses that recognize cartons and scan items automatically, driving picking accuracy to new heights.

Cerasis reports that augmented reality technologies are growing at a rate of 100% annually with an estimated $600 billion dollar value. Expect to see some amazing developments in this area next year.

8) Supply Chains Go Cloud-Only

Three-quarters of all Warehouse Management System users are projected to be in the cloud by 2020. The mass migration to cloud applications for the supply chain industry will begin in earnest next year. More organizations will adopt cloud-first and cloud-only policies as the cost and timeline of implementations are reduced, and more pre-built system integrations become available. Supply chains that have lagged behind in upgrading to the cloud will reap the rewards of a quicker and less painful migration.

9) EDI Transactions Increase

90% of the global supply chain relies on EDI to share freight data with their supply chain partners. Companies will expand their use of EDI to become even more tightly integrated with their networks. The need for shipping data will drive even deeper use of EDI with existing partnerships as organizations that had three or four transaction sets will look to at least double that.

10) The Supply Chain Labor Shortage Gets Worse

A recent SCM World survey found that for every supply chain job lost in 2017, three jobs will be added. This will create an even greater strain on an already tight labor market. Finding good labor will be even harder and more expensive than it is today. Organizations will look to Labor-Management technologies to get more productivity out of their existing staff and forecast staffing needs on a day-to-day basis. This labor crisis will also drive larger investments and higher adoption rates of automated warehouse technologies like Amazon’s Kiva Robotics.

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