If you want to improve the performance of your supply chain, you must invest in technology. Over the last forty years, approaches to supply chain planning have significantly evolved as technology has developed. These approaches have occurred in waves that started with reordering point planning, which then evolved into MRP and ERP, followed by advanced planning solutions that helped balance supply chain trade-offs, real-time planning systems with sophisticated optimization engines and then sense and respond capabilities.



Surfers usually say that a “set” is a series of ocean waves that travel in seven groups, with the seventh wave being the biggest and most powerful. That’s precisely what is coming our way now; the seventh wave in supply chain planning – which is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to take planning to the next level. And at the very peak of the wave? It’s a cognitive orchestration platform and operating model that seamlessly blends the very best of both human-to-human and human-to-machine collaboration. Fluid and flexible systems built around robust technology with the client experience at the heart of everything.

In the future, when business historians look back over time at the supply chain world, there is no doubt that the period we are in right now will be viewed as just as significant as the mechanization that occurred at the end of the 18th century. Total digital transformation. A complete 180-degree turning point in how we do what we do.

Forgotten your board?

Sounds exhilarating, but what’s stopping some of us from diving in and riding that wave with confidence? One of the barriers is the existing levels of technical debt we already have in legacy planning systems. That is a problem that will take a while to go away, and it is a problem compounded by the significant costs involved in replacing what we already have. Another problem holding people back is fear of failure – 60% of technology implementations don’t roll out successfully. People have been burned before. But we have a roadmap to keep you on track.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Firstly, technical debt. One way around it is to build a business case of two parts. The first is a hard cost-benefit analysis of the commercial and organizational benefits that ‘seventh wave’ investments will bring vs the risk of doing nothing. The second part is to build a compelling vision of the future that the board becomes so invested in that they will sweep aside any technical debt and fear that might be standing in their way.

Once you have secured the right buy-in and investment, it’s about building for success, riding that wave, and staying standing for as long as possible. A clear people, process, and technology roadmap that incorporates the following core elements are essential:

  1. Create a forward-looking process design that isn’t based on your current processes or technology solutions. Be bold – rip it up and start again.
  2. Strive in your process and organizational designs to achieve the perfect balance between human and electronic resources and define new structures that are NOT based on conventional vertical functions and clear reporting lines – designed for fluidity and flexibility. Keep the surfer in mind!
  3. Incorporate in your roadmap a phased approach that layers on the technology and functionality linked to an evolution in your process and people capabilities.
  4. And note – don’t get seduced by the technology hype or funky technology demonstrations. It’s more critical than ever to have a robust and well-structured selection process linked to your vision and not hampered by simply defining what functionality you need to support what you are currently doing.

There – you are set. The seventh wave is on your horizon. Your board is waxed and ready to go. It will be an exhilarating, terrifying ride, unlike anything you have experienced before. But, this is precisely the reason why you need to embrace it! So, come on in – the water is lovely.

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