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Supply Chain Trends, 2024: Removing Barriers to Visibility & Resilience

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2023 was a year full of challenges for supply chain leaders. Recovery from COVID-19, avoiding supply chain disruptions, mitigating geo-political risk and climate changes, and understanding the implications of ESG on the supply chain were some of the headwinds leaders had to navigate. Amidst all these challenges and the corresponding need for a resilient supply chain, all the buzz around GenAI and ChatGPT added to the complexity of the supply chain technology roadmap for vendors and clients. 

As we enter 2024, the supply chain industry continues to grapple with most of these challenges driven by regulatory requirements and the need for supply chain visibility, and this year will see strong demand for sustainability services and technology enabling resilience in the areas of planning, distribution, network optimization, and track and trace.

Here are the top five supply chain trends that may reshape the industry and vendors' offerings in 2024 and beyond:

Conversational & GenAI to improve user experience and drive efficiency

2023 saw vendors proactively investing in GenAI and conversational AI and developing POCs and MVPs, while clients have been looking to embrace these technologies with successful use cases within the supply chain. The existing use of technology within the supply chain revolves around self-service reporting and advanced analytics alongside platform and SaaS solutions coupled with RPA, AI, and ML-based algorithms and proprietary tools from service providers.

Supply chain leaders have been working on the digital transformation of the supply chain and end-to-end technology roadmap. Still, adopting new technology within the supply chain varies significantly depending on the client’s supply chain and technology maturity. The use of technology in areas such as planning, forecasting, advanced analytics, scenario modeling, and network optimization has been one of the most common themes across vendors and clients in the last couple of years. The use of GenAI and conversational AI is still at a very early stage. NelsonHall estimates that ~50% of supply chain-driven organizations are investing in GenAI or looking to invest in 2024 to improve the accuracy of forecasting and demand planning, and virtual assistants to improve user experience, create and process documents across the supply chain, order tracking, invoice management, and risk management.

Digital twin to see increased demand and adoption

A supply chain digital twin uses real-time data and snapshots to create a detailed simulation model and help with scenario planning and analysis. A supply chain digital twin can be an excellent tool for understanding the supply chain’s behavior, predicting bottlenecks and anomalies, and troubleshooting.

With a focus on improving planning, forecasting, and driving user experience, NelsonHall expects two-thirds of large organizations to adopt digital twins in the supply chain within two years. This can be particularly useful in industries with a complex supply chain, such as manufacturing, energy and utilities, oil and gas, consumer goods and durables, defense, etc. Some of the tangible benefits organizations can leverage from the use of digital twins include:

  • Long-term supply chain planning and forecasting
  • Sensitivity analysis to avoid disruptions
  • Inventory optimization
  • Improving supply chain resilience and agility.

As organizations embrace digitalization of the supply chain, improving supply chain visibility, real-time tracking and tracing, advanced analytics, and control tower operations, the cost of adopting digital twins and barriers to adopting them will reduce significantly. However, from a vendor perspective, digital twins require a strong hardware capability or partnership and a robust engineering capability. Buyers of supply chain services need to weigh up their vendors’ end-to-end capability adequately. 

Increased demand for touchless supply chain operations

Supply chain disruptions have become more real post-COVID, and the recent events have added to the complexity. Supply chain disruption challenges, along with evolving customer preferences and regulations, require leaders to act swiftly, thus making them shift to a more autonomous and agile supply chain. Various areas within the supply chain where touchless operations have been  adding value are:

  • Touchless planning
  • Touchless order management
  • Touchless analytics and reporting.

Vendors such as Capgemini, Infosys, IBM, and other major players have touchless planning services and claim to deliver tangible benefits such as:

  • Up to 80% reduction in operations cost
  • Up to 5% increase in revenue base.

In today’s world, when organizations are grappling with an overload of systems, platforms, tools, processes, and technology,  along with complex business organizations, a touchless supply chain can immensely improve user experience. A touchless supply chain will also ensure resources are utilized for more strategic work and free up to 60-70% of their time from mundane and routine work. At the core of touchless supply chain operations is the technology network, including RPAs, machine learning models, and AI, that ensures standard processes can be automated and performed independently with minimal or no human intervention.

With adequate planning, the latest technology, and domain knowledge, vendors have successfully delivered touchless planning and other operations for their clients. NelsonHall expects touchless planning, order management, and analytics/reporting/forecasting to have higher demand in 2024 and widespread adoption to 70-80% in the next 18 months.

Enabling end-to-end supply chain visibility

2023 was a dynamic and challenging year, with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Israel-Hamas war, Panama Canal crisis disrupting trade routes, and Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Not much has changed as we enter 2024 with most of these crises ongoing. This certainly means a lot of planning, decision-making, increased cost pressure, transportation constraints, and other associated challenges that supply chain managers will have to work with. These geopolitical uncertainties have exponentially increased the complexity for supply chain managers, and the situation warrants quicker and faster decision-making.

In today’s complex global supply chains, decision-making without real-time, end-to-end visibility can be costly and counterproductive for businesses. Lack of visibility of real-time transactions, orders, shipment status, and inventory significantly impacts cost, customer satisfaction, and associated supply chain risk. Vendors have developed an ecosystem of solutions that integrates real-time data across systems, allowing business users to make faster decisions and access actionable insights and decisions. NelsonHall expects the demand for end-to-end supply chain visibility services to stay strong in the coming months and years, driven by the need for transformation, digitalization, and faster decision-making.

Avoiding supply chain disruptions in 2024

Given the current market situation, the possibility of a major supply chain disruption is not too far-fetched. Companies must assess their supply chain resilience and identify and react to gaps. This may be a longer-term plan; however, companies must respond to ever-evolving internal and external factors to address and adapt to business challenges.

This may require a proactive approach and an assessment of the current supply chain landscape. Creating supply chain visibility will be the first step towards understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the existing supply chain. Without adequate data and insights, organizations may be sitting on a ticking time bomb in the current market scenario. Visibility of the supply chain can help leadership with sufficient insights and data points to proactively identify challenges and plan accordingly. While 2024 may be challenging, using technology coupled with adequate monitoring, planning, and partnerships can help organizations avoid potential disruption.

From NelsonHall’s recent discussions with the major service providers, some of the themes for 2024 that emerged were that clients are showing maximum interest in improved forecasting and planning accuracy, leveraging digital tools and technology and AI for transformation, use of GenAI in the supply chain, and sustainability services.

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