Trouble Finding Talent?

I continuously hear from my clients that it’s hard to find top talent in this current climate. It’s the same feedback and comments regardless of country, industry or functional area.

It’s a daily challenge to find and hire the talent needed to drive business growth.

My response to those comments though is the same….it’s not hard to find the talent it’s hard to convince the talent that this particular opportunity is the right one for them.

I’ve been in search for the past 7 years and have clearly come into the space at a time when technology is fueling accessibility to people and talent across the globe. Twitter, Facebook, Google and Google+ and LinkedIn make it so much easier to find and communicate with talent than it was 10-15 years ago. LinkedIn is basically a cheat sheet for all in the search/recruitment space and we use it to it’s fullest capacity on a daily basis.

But therein lies the problem with technology and it’s quick access to talent. People are flooded daily with requests to connect (I’m just as quality as anyone else as I send requests all the time) and InMails about potential job opportunities. The pushback I now see is it’s become very difficult for candidates to know which opportunities are real, whom they can trust with discussions about their careers and which opportunities are worth investing their time. There’s just too much information available.

I take pride in running efficient search assignments as I know time is a valuable commodity for everyone these days. Below is a few fundamentals I use to secure top talent for my clients:

  • Deep functional knowledge: Candidates will know if you don’t understand the technical space you’re talking about. They’ll know if you’re just trying to use buzz words or can’t actually link the requirements of the role to their specific experience and motivational factors. I primarily stick to the Value Chain arena and believe having worked in the space prior to my time in search combined with a Masters degree in the space gives me instant credibility to both the candidate and client.
  • Transparency in your process: Transparency builds trust. It’s OK if there’s problems culturally or financially with your client. Candidates don’t mind a challenge, often actually preferring it. Just be honest about the as is and what it’s actually like inside your clients business.
  • Quick process: Having alignment with your client around timelines and process allows you to keep the candidate engaged in the opportunity, driving them swiftly through the hiring process. Once you have their attention….keep it.
  • Detailed interview feedback: Candidates want to know how their interview went. Provide more than just a yes or no, actually let them know what they did well and the areas they need to improve on for the next round. This shows effort from the client side and again builds trust and rapport with the candidate.
  • Structured and methodical assessment: The more senior the role becomes, the greater the emphasis is put on past experiences as an indicator for future success. Having additional assessment tools that highlight behavioral competencies and deep technical knowledge demonstrate to top talent there is alignment internally about what is needed in the role to be successful. You want the candidate to be put through the rigors when it comes to assessing them for the role. You want to make them earn it. As with anything in life if it’s too easy it’s not worth it.

The ability to manage and control communication transparently, to drive efficient and swift hiring processes and build technical functional trust will allow any organization to find talent. There’s plenty out there, just make sure you know how to secure it before you start looking.

Tony

Blockchain and the Supply Chain Industry: Hype Or Here?

Blockchain technology looks set to have a significant impact on the supply chain industry. This is  because many of its characteristics and capabilities seem custom made for some of the largest challenges in supply chains. The term blockchain is one that I’m sure you are seeing associated with more and more companies and with greater frequency in the media, often in relation to  Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. But what exactly is blockchain technology and what does the invention of a digital currency like Bitcoin actually offer the supply chain industry?

Understanding blockchain

Blockchain was essentially born less than 10 years ago with the invention of Bitcoin, a digital currency experiment that allowed for two people to conduct a financial transaction over the internet without the use of any intermediary such as a bank or other middle man. This transaction was also recorded in a distributed public ledger so that both parties, as well as anyone else who wished to seek verification, could track and record the transaction.

It was soon realized however that the underlying technology behind Bitcoin could also be used for a vast array of other useful purposes. This underlying technology we now call blockchain. The distributed, digital ledger records each individual transaction in a series of blocks that can exist as multiple copies across many different computers, or nodes. The security of the ledger is maintained because every node retains a copy of the entire history of every transaction made on that blockchain, and each new block of transactions is linked back to each block before it. Once a block is verified through performing complex algorithms, the block is essentially locked and secured and every node records a copy of the new transactions. As the entire blockchain is decentralised, it doesn’t rely on any single body or have a single point of failure.

This distributed ledger technology also led to another innovation known as “smart contracts”, which were introduced by a second generation of blockchain technology called the Ethereum network. Ethereum allows small programs to be coded directly into the blockchain to allow financial instruments such as loans or bonds to be represented as contracts, rather than just the cash-like tokens used in Bitcoin.

Almost every major financial institution in the world as well as thousands of other companies across almost every industry are now conducting research into blockchain technology to see how it can be used to improve performance. As third and fourth generation blockchain innovations continue, we will increasingly see blockchains used to record and pay for all types of services around the world. If offers the potential to reduce transaction times for international payments from days to just minutes, and with vastly lower transaction costs. This is all while still maintaining a level of security in line with or greater than existing established payments systems such as Visa or SWIFT.

So what does all this have to do with supply chain?

The major reason that supply chain is so well suited to blockchain innovations is that supply chains themselves as well as the supply chain industry is highly complex. Supply chains involve many different businesses or individuals working together, where an element of trust needs to be established every step of the way. Currently, contracts must be handled by lawyers and bankers, which leads to high costs and long delays. It can take days to make payments between manufacturers, suppliers, vendors, and customers. And payment times and costs increase significantly when these transactions are international, despite living in a globalised world of commerce.

Parts and products need to arrive on time and undamaged, meaning there needs to be a tracking process in place to determine where defects may have occurred. Where the product is of high value, prone to breakage, or prone to spoilage such as when transporting fresh produce, these tracking processes become even more important and costly.

Blockchain technologies look to be able to solve many if not all of these challenges. Blockchain can be used to verify or track any type of exchange or agreement. Within a supply chain context, it can be applied to everything from smart, self-executing supply contracts to automated cold chain management. Blockchain offers the supply chain industry a shared ledger that is updated and validated in real time with every network participant. This allows for total and equal visibility of all transactions and activities as well as allowing for the location and condition of an asset to be known at any point in time.

Bitcoin features for supply chain

Exactly the same blockchain features that secure Bitcoin transactions can be used to meet the needs for the integrity and reliability for a supply chain.

Primary benefits

Consensus – all parties along the entire chain can agree on the validity of every transaction. For Bitcoin, this refers to the value, timing, and recipient of a transaction while for supply chain it could mean a payment, warehousing, transport, or delivery.

Provenance – all parties know the complete history of each asset including who owned it previously and for what length of time. In Bitcoin, this asset is a cryptocurrency that represents a form of money. For supply chain, assets can include anything from fresh produce to raw materials, finished products to copyrights and contracts.

Immutability – no party has the ability to tamper with an entry stored on the distributed ledger. Once a transaction has been verified, it is permanently recorded and can never be erased. This is why a Bitcoin transaction cannot be cancelled or reversed. Only a new transaction can be used to offset a previous one. For supply chain this means that payments or inventory records can never be falsified and a complete record of delivery conditions, times, and dates can be known.

Additional benefits

Cost reductions – by using smart contracts and utilising the automated aspects of blockchain, organisations can significantly reduce legal and administrative costs as well as reducing the amount of paperwork required to manage operations.

Traceability – as well as tracking the real time position of products, sensors can be fitted in parts and products and integrated into the blockchain to continuously monitor useful metrics such as temperature, humidity, or acceleration to determine exactly where damage occurs.

Compliance – blockchain records improve visibility and compliance levels over traditional contract manufacturing.

From Bitcoin to business

One of the key advantages of supply chain blockchain use is that it is not necessary to use the vast “mining” networks of computers that Bitcoin uses to verify the Bitcoin blockchain transactions. Due to the vast size of the Bitcoin ledger and the complex algorithms used to verify each transaction, massive amounts of distributed computing power is needed to verify each new block of transactions. These computer systems, often running in locations with cheap electricity costs such as Mongolia or Iceland, are referred to as “miners”, and they earn small amounts of Bitcoin for each block they successfully verify and add to the blockchain. In the case of supply chain blockchains, it is not necessary to use mining. Blockchains for business use do not need these large mining networks as there are other, simpler options for securely updating the much smaller blockchain.

The applications of blockchain in supply chain are also much more diverse than just sending or receiving payments, with smart contracts offering very useful capabilities. Smart contracts are the pieces of software that execute the action carried out on the blockchain. The software is stored on the blockchain and automatically executes the smart contract when the desired conditions are met. This means that no interference or fraud is possible.

An example of smart contract use in supply chain could be the order to dispatch a product when a payment is received. They can be used for any number of other actions such as triggering a penalty if a product is not received by an agreed time. This completely avoids the need for any third party to manually check if an event has occurred, making supply chains more efficient. Significant amounts of time and expense can therefore be saved by automating many contract, tracking, or verification processes that currently must be manually performed.   

Supply chain use cases

The following provides some real world use cases where blockchain technology can be utilised in the supply chain industry:

Supplier payments

Because blockchain allows transactions to be conducted anywhere in the world, international payments are just as simple as local ones. They also have very low transaction costs and are much faster than traditional bank transfers. Most transactions take just a few minutes, compared to international bank transfers that can take days. There are already Australian companies, such as the vehicle manufacturer Tomcar that use Bitcoin to pay its suppliers and there are many other international companies that make and receive payments using blockchain.

Electric power grids

One of the best examples of the use cases for smart contracts is for trading and redistributing electricity produced by solar panels. Australian company Power Ledger has developed a blockchain driven system that allows people to sell any surplus electricity produced by their solar panels. The technology is based on the Ethereum blockchain platform, which allows smart contracts of any kind to be developed. The energy trading network can be used by residential properties as well as commercial players, automating the purchase and sale of renewable energy to save money as well as helping to reduce overall electricity consumption.

RFID based contract bids

RFID tags are already commonly used throughout the supply chain industry to record information about parts and products. The tags allow information to easily and automatically be read and by integrating these systems with blockchain, it allows for an expanded use case by utilising smart contracts for logistics. As an example of how it can be used, an RFID tag placed on a pallet can store the date and delivery requirements. Logistic partner organisations can then identify these tags and bid for the delivery contract. A smart contract can then be used to track the status of the delivery and monitor that all the delivery requirements have been met.

Traceability  

The status of products during manufacturing or delivery can be recorded using blockchain along the entire process. Records of the product history also have the advantage of being permanent and unalterable. Major companies including Walmart use blockchain to track sales of produce such as meat in China. This allows the organisation to know exactly where each piece of meat is sourced from, its storage status, and sell by date. If a product recall is ever required, it allows exact batches to be tracked and when and where the product was purchased to quickly be determined.  

Sensor based monitoring

Fresh produce or pharmaceutical products often require strict storage and transport conditions to keep them safely preserved. By using sensors that monitor conditions such as temperature, humidity, or vibration and integrating that collected information with a blockchain, tamperproof monitoring can be carried out. If a storage condition changes from the required level, each member of the blockchain can see it. Smart contracts can also be used to automatically trigger actions to correct the situation such as reducing the temperature in a storage room or changing the use by date of a product.

The road ahead

Blockchain technologies offer a huge amount of promise to transform commerce. Some even believe that blockchain will have just as much of a transformative effect as the internet had on society and the way organisations do business and manage their operations. However, despite this large amount of potential for changes and benefits, it is important to remember that blockchain ecosystems are still in their infancy. Even if single organisations adopts blockchain, other partner organisations also need to buy into blockchain too for the most benefit to occur.

The relative infancy of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency payments systems also currently results in very high levels of currency volatility compared to traditional (fiat) money systems. While the value of fiat currencies such as the US or Australian dollar do also vary day to day, these price fluctuations in Bitcoin can be in the order of two digit percentage increases or decreases in a single day. This therefore can be problematic for suppliers who wish to set their pricing in Bitcoin.  

Blockchain programming, including creating smart contracts, involves a specialised mix of software skills. This means that staff need to be specifically trained in blockchain or new IT staff hired who can establish and operate the blockchain for your organisation. People also need to be careful about the storage of cryptocurrency payments as losing the “private keys” that allow access to funds means that those funds can never be restored. In this way, funds stored on the blockchain differ from funds stored at a bank where even if you lost your account numbers or login details it would still be possible to access your funds stored with a bank. For this reason, extra precautions must be taken when handling and storing blockchain funds.

Conclusion

Blockchain is a completely novel technology with huge future potential for supply chain and numerous other industries. It is a way to completely decentralise many applications and operations and to remove our present dependencies on centralised entities such as banks. It will take some time before there is widespread adoption of blockchain and new use cases are sure to continue to evolve as third and fourth generation blockchain technologies are developed.

While it will take some time for in depth transformation of supply chains to occur, there is little doubt that blockchain will transform the industry and many commercial ecosystems. Supply chains can already start using blockchain for small parts of their operations, and as other suppliers and organisations also adopt blockchain the benefits and efficiency gains will only continue to increase.

Due to the change in mindset required to understand how decentralised ecosystems will benefit the supply chain industry, blockchain can initially seem like a daunting piece of technology to  fully grasp.

Managing Director, Tony Richter, is a supply chain industry expert with 7+ years executing senior supply chain search across APAC. He works exclusively with a small portfolio of clients and prides himself on the creation of a transparent, credible, and focused approach. This ensures long term trust can be established with all clients and candidates.

To find out more about the challenges and opportunities offered by blockchain or to gain a deeper understanding of the trends underway in the supply chain industry, talk to an industry expert at http://bconsult.io/

The Emerging Supply Chain Talent Crisis

The Asia Pacific supply chain sector is facing a looming talent shortage challenge. If the extent of this shortage isn’t readily addressed, it will quickly transition from a talent gap, into a major crisis.

The number of logistics jobs needed is booming to such an extent that current demand for supply chain professionals already outstrips supply by six to one.

Further, forecasting also shows that demand for supply chain professionals may soon outstrip supply by up nine to one. (Source: DHL, ‘The Supply Chain Talent Shortage: From Gap to Crisis’)

If this trend continues many prominent supply chain organisations will face serious operating and revenue risks.

Leading companies recognise that they need to move rapidly to resolve this skills gap in order to stay competitive. It is essential that companies can operate and maintain a workforce with the capabilities to evolve with the emerging technologies shaping the industry.

The factors behind the talent shortage

The supply chain industry is so large and complex that there are a wide range of reasons for the emerging talent shortage. These are driven by some factors common to many industries, such as the expanding role of technology in operational processes as well as factors specific to the needs of supply chain. Underlying all factors however is the reality that supply chain in the Asia Pacific is facing a world of changing job requirements.

Demographic pressures

The most straightforward factor affecting the shortage to is the demographic pressures associated with the exodus of Baby Boomers from the supply chain workforce. Between a quarter and a third of the current supply chain workforce is at or above retirement age, meaning that roles need to be filled by a smaller pool of people entering the workforce.

Changing job requirements

Ideal employees today need both operational competencies and analytical skills, which is a combination that is not always easy to find, and a skill set that cannot be rapidly addressed through informal in-house training programs.

While it may be straightforward to find people with strong technical skills or solid professional competencies, it is the combination of the two that organisations within the industry are struggling to find.

Additional skills that are also beneficial include leadership and strategic thinking skills to go with analytic and innovative capabilities. This situation has mainly arisen due to the rapid transition from a purely operational and logistics based industry to one now infused with technology at every level.

The effects of globalisation and disruptive technologies such as blockchain, 3D printing and greater reliance on automation, as well as consumer expectations for rapid and trackable delivery, mean that supply chain talent needs to be both technologically and operationally literate.

This is a combination of skill sets that has not traditionally been emphasised in educational, training, or industry environments. Talent also need to be adept communicators so that they can make connections both vertically within the company as well as horizontally across national and international supply chain partners.

Industry perceptions

A recent DHL commissioned report, ‘The Supply Chain Talent Shortage: From Gap to Crisis’ sought to explore many of the trends and perceptions currently occuring in the industry. In its survey of more than 350 supply chain companies, it revealed that there is a perceived lack of status of supply chain as a profession as well as opportunity for career growth in the industry.

The issues around status are something that the industry has been aware of for some time. This image problem, especially related to supply chain roles in emerging markets, is related to the idea that supply chain roles are not as desirable as careers in other sectors such as finance, marketing, sales, or product development.

Whether these perceptions are true or not does not detract from them being identified by more than two-thirds of surveyed respondents and therefore being crucial factors in attracting and retaining the highest levels of talent.

This image problem appears to also stem from internal attitudes within the industry itself, where companies may not value the supply chain sector of their organisation as being as important as other disciplines. Only 25 percent of the survey participants viewed supply chain as being of equal importance to other disciplines.

In contrast, 40 percent of respondents saw supply chain talent’s value framed only in a situational context, either as a commodity or a corporate asset. This highlights the need to reframe supply chain in the eyes of graduates and the wider public and to better communicate the importance of the sector to multiple aspects of an organisation’s success.  

These perceptions seem ingrained in the industry despite a general understanding that supply chain and the people that run them play a key role in most major organisations.

So why is something essential not properly valued as being vitally important?

This may be partially related to recognised difficulties in integrating old and new ways of working. This is common in industries facing rapid progress or change, as cultural clashes emerge between how talent wants to work and how the industry expects them to work based on traditional norms and processes.

The keys to closing the gap

Acknowledging the problem

Lisa Harrington, president of the lharrington group, acknowledges that:

“Unfortunately, recruiting the right talent, especially at the critical mid-level and senior management levels, is proving very difficult in today’s environment. New technologies and fundamental areas of the supply chain have changed, meaning they now require that a person has a different and much larger skill set than required when most of the current workforce began their careers.”

Leading companies fully recognise that the talent shortage exists and that the industry has an image problem. This allows them to progress with proactively taking the steps needed to prevent the talent shortage from significantly affecting their long term growth and competitiveness. This involves having comprehensive talent acquisition pipelines and strategies in place as well as programs to upskill their existing workforce.

In many cases, it is this lack of internal development or a perceived lack of clear development pathways for staff that creates the perception that their time and skills may be more sought after in other industries.

Talent acquisition

As Millennials, the group broadly born between 1980 and 2000, begin to take up the middle and senior leadership roles within the industry, organisations must be able to integrate them within the changing landscape. This includes cultural changes as well as the technology shifts incorporating and increasing reliance on Big Data, artificial intelligence, and automation processes. While training and a focus on engagement are important parts of the talent shortage picture, broader approaches are needed to recruit and retain Millennials.

Supply chain as an industry needs a more focused approach to attracting talent, and especially Millennials, into the industry.

One way this can be achieved is through the development of graduate programs akin to how professional services firms attract talent into accounting or software engineering. While high school education programs can be beneficial, the most important level for supply chain hiring managers to focus their attention to is at the university level.

Gartner research shows that working with university partners is the most effective way to onboard new talent. These partnerships can include establishing a regular presence at careers fairs, sponsoring and being involved in student professional associations and organisations, establishing direct relationships with professors, and becoming actively involved in the creation of new curricula.

This helps ensure that the graduates that do emerge from universities are both aware of the opportunities that exist in supply chain as well as being well equipped with the skills and familiarity with software and technologies that drive the modern supply chain industry. Internships and programs to return former graduates to assist in on-campus education and recruitment are also highly effective.

Once students, graduates and others recognise that there is a huge and exciting role for the latest technology in the sector, they will see that they can play a leading role in implementing new technologies and transforming the industry. If senior management additionally makes the effort to highlight the importance of these processes within their organisations, then technology specialists working in supply chain will further realise that there are exciting long term career opportunities to implement and lead these transitions.

As technology becomes more and more an essential part of supply chain, companies need to take the opportunity to specifically target and attract talent from the wider technology sector to specialise in the industry. It is therefore vital to provide clear avenues for individuals to continue learning new skills and enhancing their professional qualifications along each step of their career trajectory. By making these options available for talent, both Millenials and other staff will feel more engaged and invested in the organisation that is also actively demonstrating that it also wants to invest in them.  

Development pathways

The DHL survey found that lack of development was a major factor in the talent shortage issue, with one third of the companies surveyed having taken no concrete steps to establish or secure their future talent pipeline. Once middle management, the sector of the workforce identified as being the most difficult to source new talent in, begins to believe that there is a brighter career pathway outside of supply chain, it is already too late.

Clearly defined career pathways, education and training programs, talent development partnerships, and cultural adaptation programs are all vital to retaining and attracting talent.

Professional development can be based around certification programs and in-house training, providing staff with more tangible development than informal training processes can provide.

Mentoring

Another highly effective aspect of talent development is the implementation of ongoing mentorship programs. Mentors are usually best selected from within the organisation but at two-levels above their assigned sponsor. They can provide tailored coaching and support as well as access to their wider professional networks.

The mentor becomes responsible for helping to guide the sponsor to greater success and fulfilment in their role and mentorship programs have been shown to both increase performance and job satisfaction. Mentorship programs also offer talent a clear indication that the organisation is actively interested in their ongoing development and providing a clear path for upward mobility within the company.

Cultural change

The need for cultural shifts and changes in workplace environments are not limited only to the supply chain industry. Changing expectations about work-life balance and working styles necessitate that companies reassess the types of environments that they create for their staff.

As well as ensuring attractive compensation and benefits, companies need to create high quality work environments. This should include a focus on creating flexible working conditions by means of strategies such as job rotation programs, flexible work hours, and greater emphasis on creating engaging talent development programs.

Rotational programs, usually geared towards new graduates or newer staff, involve the participants being given the opportunity to rotate through several positions across different departments. Each rotation lasts for a period of generally between six months and three years. A standard rotation program within the industry will see the new graduate rotate through positions in warehouse management, shipping, and distribution. This gives them exposure to learning a wider variety of skills as well as providing the opportunity to experience different roles and avoiding a perception of being stuck in a single position.   

Where to next?

Talent skill sets and expectations are changing rapidly as technology transforms entire industries at a rapid pace. Supply chain industry leaders need to shape and secure their workforces in line with these changes and to remain competitive to 2020 and beyond. Supply chains in the Asia Pacific region need to transform their operating and cultural environments to make the industry and their company attractive to the next generation of talent.

Bastian Consulting has a deep industry understanding of supply chain in the APAC region. Managing Director, Tony Richter, is a supply chain industry expert with 7+ years executing senior supply chain search across APAC. He works exclusively with a small portfolio of clients and prides himself on the creation of a transparent, credible, and focused approach. This ensures long term trust can be established with all clients and candidates.

To find out more about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry or to talk to an industry expert, email Tony Richter on tony@bconsult.io

8 Trends Reshaping The Supply Chain Industry In 2018

There are few sectors likely to experience the effects of technology developments in 2018 as greatly as the supply chain industry.

This is primarily due to the steady transition of the supply chain industry to an IT-driven environment. This means that the rapid changes occurring across a range of technologies including artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics and automation, and Big Data will all have large flow-on impacts on supply chain personnel and processes.

The changes are particularly important in the Asia Pacific region because APAC remains the driving force of global economic growth.

APAC was the largest contributor to global growth in 2017 and this looks set to continue in the coming years as the Chinese middle class continues to expand and the efficiency gains of technology developments and e-commerce are realised throughout Southeast Asia and Australasia.

Opportunities and challenges

While the longer term effects of automation and AI-based efficiency gains are undoubtedly positive, these types of rapid changes often initially result in challenges for business leaders and managers as they recognise that systems need to be upgraded to higher and more sustainable standards. This can be daunting if legacy systems have not been upgraded for some time, let alone attempting to predict which technologies will come to dominate the industry and become the new standards. These types of changes are also associated with high capital expenditures, changing customer expectations, and the need for new staff and equipment training programs.

However, done correctly, making the necessary changes to supply chain infrastructure can yield huge competitive advantages. This is born from improved capital efficiency, alignment of systems, more accurate growth strategies, and more effective ways of managing complexity and uncertainty. In short, having in place modern infrastructure and processes make your organisation smarter and more profitable.

There are  huge opportunities for companies working across both developed and emerging markets. The two main factors driving these opportunities are the expansion of the consumer population and the mass expansion and adoption of smartphones. Both of these factors act as strong drivers for the need to modernise the approach to logistics management.

The key issues and trends

The following section outlines the major issues facing the industry in 2018, as well as highlighting some of the technologies that are transforming it.

Artificial Intelligence

The era of useful artificial intelligence (AI) has well and truly arrived as algorithm-based decision making and data analytics are essentially being adopted across every type of industry. In the supply chain industry, AI technologies offer the possibilities of near-continuous production as well as the benefits of reducing human error, reduced staffing costs, as well as improving the working life of the modern generation of factory and warehouse staff.

We are now seeing the development of new working relationships between human workforces and AI. For organisations, AI offers the opportunity to restructure workflows so that workers can be more focused and productive in their roles with the support of technology, while being able to move away from many of the more menial tasks such as tracking products or processing large volumes of product data. High-level AI derived from continually evolving algorithms, also offer company directors and decision makers the ability to make more informed strategic decisions driven by AI.

DHL is using predictive AI technologies to enable “anticipatory logistics”, which can shorten delivery times and boost efficiency by anticipating demand before an order has even been placed. Global supply chain managers can use these types of AI technologies to reduce bottlenecks at every stage of the supply chain and to be proactive rather than reactive during peak periods.

Blockchain

Blockchain technologies are being widely adopted everywhere from fintech applications to global development projects. One benefit of the permanent, secure record that blockchains can provide to benefit supply chains is being realised in agriculture. Bext360 is using blockchain technology to develop automated kiosks, which evaluate produce such as coffee, negotiate a price, and make the payment via digital currency – all automatically. The digital payments are made directly to each stakeholder along the entire supply chain from the farmers, transport companies, banks, and purchasers. These types of systems can also be used to verify the source of goods. Another company, Provenance, is using blockchain systems and a specialised app to track Asian tuna supply chains, so that regulators and consumers can transparently see where the tuna is being sourced from.

ICOs in blockchain software

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are increasingly being used as a means to quickly source capital to launch blockchain based companies and software. This process avoids the need for lengthy and often costly venture capital funding in a process similar to traditional IPOs but without the need to give up partial ownership of the organisation via shares. Instead, the coins, which are essentially utility tokens, are supplied in exchange for invested funds, which can then be traded on exchanges or used to directly purchase goods or services from the blockchain company.

WABI has used the ICO process to launch its blockchain powered goods tracking platform, with the aim to tackle the more than USD $450 billion worth of imported fake goods in circulation around the world. This is especially an issue in China where counterfeit goods are particularly problematic, extending to pharmaceuticals and food products, including baby food. The platform uses an RFID tracking system to link digital and physical assets through the RFID labels that incorporate anti-copy features. Consumers can then authenticate the product using their smartphone.

The pace of technological change

Technologies are advancing faster than we know how to use them. The boom in e-commerce has provided customers with a larger array of product options than ever before and an increasingly simple way of finding them and having them delivered without ever having to leave home. It has also led to changes in customer expectations and demands, which has had flow-on effects onto the way that warehousing needs to be managed and operated.

With heightened customer demands and fast, low-cost delivery options from e-commerce giants such as Amazon, customers increasingly expect rapid or even same day deliveries. The logistics industry, therefore, needs to respond to these expectations in order to remain relevant and in favour of customers. Reliable infrastructure, combined with the utilisation of technology developments is the only way that companies wishing to succeed in the supply chain industry can keep up with these changes.

Martell Hardenberg, CEO of e-commerce retailer Lazada, sees online and mobile commerce as being the primary means of customer purchasing in the future and believes that people will continue the transition to online and then mobile device based shopping. These trends are also extending to new areas once dominated by the traditional shopping experience such as for grocery items. Shoppers are moving to purchase all types of products online, even large home appliances.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) term has come to be associated with connected home appliances such as smart speakers or home lighting and electronics but it is, in fact, a very broad landscape that includes all the benefits of connected sensor and tracking technologies. McKinsey research indicates that the potential economic impact of IoT applications will be in excess of US$11 trillion by 2025 and as much as US$3.7 trillion of this will be related to factory environments.

Ashish Pujari is the general manager and vice president of SAP (Asia Pacific and Japan) and believes that the key benefit that IoT brings will be the enablement of informed manufacturing. This means that all products, people, and processes within an organisation can be seamlessly integrated and information shared in real-time to create smarter, more streamlined, and more automated processes.

Sensor technologies such as Near Field Communication (NFC) tags are also increasingly being recognised for their potential to improve efficiencies across multiple industries including logistics, biomedical, and marketing. Its potential to accurately tag and track items makes it a vital tool for improving company workflows while also providing enormous potential for organisations to better understand and engage with their customers. Companies can use NFC chips, barcodes, and UHF RFID tags to connect products, software, and hardware systems to the cloud, allowing far greater insights to be drawn from company workflows.

Automation and robotics

While task-specific robots have been used for decades in processes such as automotive manufacturing, the latest generation of robots have the ability to learn how to perform various tasks, making them potentially far more useful. This attribute means they can be utilised almost anywhere along the supply chain. Combined with evolving and advancing AI technologies, this offers flexibility in the manufacturing process as well as the potential for reducing staff costs, especially related to repetitive or dangerous tasks.

The 2017 Telsyte ANZ Robotic Process Automation Study 2017 found that the Australian robotics market, which is currently worth around $216 million, is set to expand rapidly to $870 million by 2020. And while ANZ may not be the first company you would expect to be implementing robots in its workforce, it is in fact leading the way in Australia by rolling out a series of robot software systems that can take over the work of employees across a range of roles from helpdesk support, customer service, and payroll administration.

Big Data

There is essentially an unlimited way in which Big Data can be used to track and measure performance but in the supply chain industry, one way in which it is being used most effectively is by accumulating information in real time to build a picture of a factory’s performance. Historically, surveying workers accurately has been difficult without putting an entire factory or warehouse under surveillance, but modern sensors and networks can provide insights that would have been difficult or impossible to reveal in the past. Aggregated and personalised data on individual workers allows managers and directors to identify problems more easily and make changes to processes for all staff to improve productivity.

By removing bottlenecks in the manufacturing or delivery process, it also improves the lives of workers by streamlining their roles and preventing time wasted on unnecessary or frustrating tasks. This type of system is being implemented by companies such as the product design and procurement specialist, Matrix, where the transition to data-driven process design has been a game changer in creating a leaner business model and reducing wastage. The role of Big Data driven decision making will continue to advance throughout supply chains across the Asia Pacific.

3D printing

3D printing has huge potential for use in prototyping of new products and designs. It is now being used by companies such as Unilever, which was able to nearly halve its prototype production time after investing in 3D printing technologies. Previously, its production team would have to wait many weeks for the prototype parts to be created using the traditional tooling process, which has implications right down the supply chain. Not only does this lengthen lead times but also increases costs as further iterations are required. With 3D printing technologies, it is possible to apply design iterations to the moulds within hours, not only speeding up production times but also allowing for closer engagement of product designers with the manufacturing team to create better products.

The next step

Technology is transforming supply chains and ensuring advantages are maintained as competition expands across the global stage. Supply chains across the Asia Pacific need to leverage the benefits of technology and use them to enhance the productivity and happiness of their employees. Ongoing investments need to be made in IT to ensure compatibility and flexibility across the supply chain and new approaches need to be taken in storage and delivery systems.

Organisations, especially small and medium enterprises, need to make careful decisions about where to invest in new technologies and where to outsource, to ensure they can keep up with the pace of change without overextending capital budgets.

Bastian Consulting has a deep industry focus on senior level supply chain roles in the APAC region. Managing Director, Tony Richter, is an expert in the supply chain industry with 7+ years executing senior supply chain search across APAC. He works only with a small portfolio of exclusive clients and uses a transparent, credible, and focused approach to establish trust with all his clients and candidates.