I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at ISM Tech 2017 this past week. It was one of the most forward thinking conferences I have attended in awhile. From discussions on 3D printing, to drones that help with inventory management, my mind was blown with all of the innovation and advancements that are poised to completely change how we think of supply chains and deliver on customized solutions for the customer base.
Much like how Amazon disrupted the retail world and how Uber changed the game in delivery (people and product), we are at the cusp of some major advancements in Supply Chain and Procurement. Let’s take 3D Printing, as an example. Rick Smith, CEO, from FastRadius described how 3D Printing IS changing how we think of inventory. Inventory is no longer physical, it is digital. It is changing the design cycle. No longer do you need to have lengthly designs and protoyping and all the costs associated. With 3D printing, you are designing as you are producing. It changes where you produce, as you can produce close to customers than ever before. It also changes how much you produce at one time, as everything can be on demand. Therefore, the cost model is completely different. No longer are we looking at larger purchases to drive down costs or MOQ discussions. Lastly, and might be the most important, 3D Printing allows for customization based on specific customer needs or requests. A current example is 3D printed knee replacements. Due to the technology, the knee replacement can be customized to the individual receiving the replacement and it also can have pain relieving drugs inside the replacement itself. My mind starts wondering about all the possibilities this could have. Gone are the days of mass production to an average requirement.
Another topic was on robotics. I spoke on RPA, which is already changing the way we look at end to end integration and process automation. However, there was also a great conversation on physical robots, in this case drones, that are helping with asset management and inventory outside and inside buildings. The thought process here is to have a drone count assets/inventory for you. They can perform it so rapidly that gone could be the days of cycle counting, as they can count the entire warehouse/DC daily if you wanted. PINC, known for their yard management expertise and software, is driving this innovation.
A couple of items that were not talked about at length, but are relevant none the less, are how these changes impact human capital/how we can start planning for it now and how we are living also in a unstable geo-political atmosphere. After reading several overviews of the Procurement environment in 2017, tit was clear that there is a high level of uncertainty around populism, trade changes, and how this could impact global markets. There is also a general lag in human capital capability building, within businesses and within our schooling systems, to get ready for such a disruptive change.
So, the question is with the state of the Procurement functions today, are we ready for such an Era of Disruption? Who will see this as a large opportunity to leap frog the competition? Or will Procurement be overrun by such changes? The amazing thing to me is that if you are not having conversations now about these changes, you are already behind. These changes are already occurring and they are not waiting for anyone. It is time now to be a disruptor!