From cloud to artificial intelligence (AI), technologies are shaping the future of the supply chain. For B2B supply chains, disruptive technologies will change the way that companies purchase parts, stock inventory, and verify adherence to regulatory and government standards. The top trends that will disrupt the supply chain landscape in the near future are: automation, AI and analytics, blockchain, and omni-channel sales.
Automation, AI and Analytics
Companies are increasingly looking for ways to drive efficiencies through their value chain. The most common application of automation and AI is on the manufacturing floor, driving the orchestration of activities, such as part replenishment. Through connected and automated equipment, a supplier will be alerted when a part needs to be replenished. With this fully automated system, no purchase orders are created and there is no communication needed with the manufacturing team.
The insights derived through data analytics will empower more informed decision-making. By understanding the inventory levels and patterns, companies like ours can help our customers improve their inventory forecasts through tools such as virtual ‘what-if’ scenario simulations. These simulations allow companies to understand the implications of scenarios such as different inventory levels and sudden increases to demand. This information can then be leveraged to make changes to the bill of materials and provide recommendations to meet a customer’s solutions. The value lies in the ability to quickly provide customers with tailored solutions using standardized best practices.
Automation or robotics can also be leveraged in the office for repetitive manual tasks such as entering invoice information into a database. We like to refer to this as taking the robot out of the human, freeing them to perform more value-added tasks.
The potential of the blockchain is undeniable. Once an obscure topic mired in mystery, blockchain is now the one of the most discussed disruptive technologies. The unchangeable and untouchable nature of this virtual ledger makes it a natural fit for the supply chain.
Blockchain offers the ability to ensure a more ethical supply chain by better tracking of parts and materials as they move to different corners of the world. It allows companies to hold their suppliers accountable to regulatory and government standards. And, it’s not just with a company’s direct suppliers but with those three, four and maybe even five layers down the supply chain. As an example, when a part is sold to the first supplier, the transaction and the part number will be logged on the blockchain — the information that can never be altered. When the part is resold and moved through the supply chain, the buyer can check the authenticity of the part by comparing it to the information that is on the blockchain.
Omni-channel Sales
The proliferation of sales channels (online, mobile, etc.) requires the extended electronics supply chain to reinvent how it supports everything from design to after-market services. No longer are designers going to individual product catalogs for design input or are they calling on-field service engineers. Instead, they are migrating their technical inquiries to online aggregators who can offer everything from technical support through purchasing ramp.
In the B2B space, orders are still often managed by people who take orders from their customers and then oversee the process until the products are delivered. This tried and true process drives a lot of value to customers. However, in the future, with the rise of a new generation of tech savvy decision-makers, this will change.
With the continued globalization of the business landscape and the increasing move towards a mobile workplace, B2B suppliers will need to provide their customers with capabilities to manage their businesses on mobile devices.  Much like in the retail industry, customers will expect to do business on the go — with the ability to check the status of their orders and even place their orders, anytime and anywhere.
Kristie Syndikus is the Vice President, Supply Chain, Advanced Technology Solutions at Celestica. This article was prepared in partnership with Celestica. It is the second of a three-part series focused on Smart Cities, Disruption to Supply Chains, and Digital Factories.