Over the last 30 years, I have seen dozens of technology trends predicted as the Next Big Thing, and then disappear into the abyss of innovation. Now more than ever, the challenge for logistics leaders is to capitalize on the right technology trends at the right time, to measurably improve their efficiency or revenues. In my opinion, one of the best resources in the industry for sifting through the hype and finding those high impact innovations is Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution Technologies, 2020. In this post, I will share my impressions on the technology trends covered in this report, and the advice I give to logistics leaders as we discuss the future of our industry.
Understanding The Hype Cycle
To start, I would like to explore the five phases of the technology lifecycle in Gartner’s Hype Cycle framework. These include the following:
“Innovation Trigger – A breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event generates significant press and industry interest;”
Peak of Inflated Expectations – During this phase of overenthusiasm and unrealistic projections, a flurry of well-publicized activity by technology leaders results in some successes, but more failures, as the technology is pushed to its limits. The only enterprises making money are conference organizers and magazine publishers;
Trough of Disillusionment – Because the technology does not live up to its overinflated expectations, it rapidly becomes unfashionable. Media interest wanes, except for a few cautionary tales;
Slope of Enlightenment – Focused experimentation and solid hard work by an increasingly diverse range of organizations lead to a true understanding of the technology’s applicability, risks and benefits. Commercial off-the-shelf methodologies and tools ease the development process;
Plateau of Productivity – The real-world benefits of the technology are demonstrated and accepted. Tools and methodologies are increasingly stable as they enter their second and third generations. Growing numbers of organizations feel comfortable with the reduced level of risk; the rapid growth phase of adoption begins. Approximately 20% of the technology’s target audience has adopted or is adopting the technology as it enters this phase.”
In the Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution Technologies, 2020, Bringg was recognized as a Sample Vendor in three categories; Last-Mile Solutions, Supply Chain Convergence, and Carrier/Supplier Appointment Scheduling.
But what does it really mean?
Last-Mile Delivery Solutions
The pace of innovation in the last mile continues to advance with unprecedented speed. I agree with Gartner’s assessment as stated in the report, that “Users that have high levels of change over the course of a delivery horizon or have a large focus on last-mile delivery to the consumer, are the best candidates for last-mile delivery solutions.” In my experience, the number of businesses that meet these criteria is growing exponentially.
The next big question is, what is the right last mile solution for each business?
Growing customer and shipper expectations for fast, reliable delivery have raised the bar for enterprises in the last mile. Last mile success now requires orchestrating a number of complex internal and processes, flows and partners. Today’s enterprises need more than the table stakes, such as automated dispatch and strong routing. Enterprises require a new breed of last mile solution to integrate with and orchestrate across internal resources and external 3PLs or crowdsourced fleets, enable unified delivery and curbside pickup operations and more.
I agree with Gartner that the benefit rating for this segment is “high,” and that the market is still emerging. With that said, I suspect that this report may have been written before we truly understood the impact of COVID-19. In today’s market, almost every enterprise retailer, restaurant, grocer, healthcare leader or logistics provider is investing in their last mile solutions. I believe we will see this category emerge quite a bit faster than the 2-5 years suggested in the report.
Supply Chain Convergence
Supply Chain Convergence is one of the supply chain trends that has been discussed for over a decade, but remains an emerging category that the market has not yet fully adopted.
In today’s market, every business is looking for better visibility, faster speed and more efficient logistics. The reality is however, that the best way to deliver the optimal business and logistics performance, is to break down operational silos.
Automating and coordinating every node in the supply chain across both internal and external resources will improve speed, visibility and efficiency far more effectively than simply paying more for faster logistics. This convergence and coordination is the principle we at Bringg call Orchestration. As the report notes, “supply chain organizations recognize that, to get to Stage 3 supply chain maturity and beyond, they must embrace convergence as both a business and an IT vision and integrated strategy.”
In practice, orchestrating operations across a fragmented supply chain often seems very difficult. I believe this is because businesses are generally focusing on individual technical integrations, without first considering the role of an Orchestration Platform.
This is the equivalent of trying to build the telephone grid in a city the size of NY by connecting every single home directly to one another. As new homes are developed, you have to update the line going to and from every other home in the city. A far more effective deployment would have each neighborhood connected to a local node, and local nodes connected to a regional and then the national network. In other words, a platform-based approach is far more sustainable and agile.
An Orchestration Platform provides leadership across technical and functional silos. as well as internal and external providers, a shared environment where they can easily connect and collaborate with one another.
Note that this approach does not require any stakeholders to change their technical applications or functional flows, simply that they connect to a shared platform. With an Orchestration Platform in place, you can then activate a centralized Orchestration Engine that can automate decision making and coordinate supply chain activity, delivering better performance without undergoing fundamental operational change.
While few organizations may be ready for full supply chain convergence today, this should not be thought of as an all-or-nothing approach. Many of our most transformational deployments at Bringg started with something as simple as improving the sync between retail operations and third party fleets. As the business begins to see the clear ROI of faster, more efficient delivery, these projects will typically expand by engaging additional third party fleets, or improving their delivery scheduling. Over time, this grows to include middle mile, order allocation, and eventually first mile and warehouse collaboration as well.
Don’t push off a big change because you are not ready to change every piece of your business. Start with something tangible, and with the platform-based approach, you can continue to grow and add new functional modules as your organization’s requirements grow.
Carrier/Supplier Appointment Scheduling
Carrier and Supplied Appointment Scheduling is a great example of the need for a centralized platform to orchestrate each step of supply chain logistics and perform supply chain optimization.
Distribution centers and other warehouses often require carriers and suppliers to schedule their appointments. This ensures that a suitable dock is available for their drivers when they arrive, and that all docks or loading zones operate at peak efficiency. In order to provide a dock slotting or appointment scheduling interface, the business (in this case, a warehouse) should ideally take into consideration their carrier or supplier identity or profile (top customers get preferred slots), their service level agreements, available and suitable docks, among other considerations, and prioritize dock availability accordingly. More advanced businesses will often utilize innovations like predictive analytics (typically machine learning models) to determine how long each dock is needed for each loading or unloading task, and when it will be available for the next truck. These innovations will further improve dock availability and utilization.
These automated or semi-automated scheduling capabilities extend well beyond dock scheduling. Appointment scheduling logic and interfaces are often highly relevant for retailers or MFCs processing a high volume of inbound and outbound logistics goods. Consignees or end-consumers similarly appreciate the ability to schedule their final mile fulfillment – whether this means selecting a convenient 1 hour delivery window for an attended delivery, or a 20 minute curbside pickup window.
Thinking Strategically – Look Beyond The Hype
The common thread across every supply chain innovation’s status on the Hype: Impact scale, is the practicality of the application or innovation in question. Whenever considering something remarkable and new, carefully consider how this innovation should be measured and eventually, how it should be scaled. It is often tempting to go all-in, investing tens and eventually hundreds of millions on a big transformation. However, the cultural change required to transform a business is as important as the technology.
In closing, my advice to the CIOs, CTOs, CSCOs and CDOs considering supply chain innovation is this: plan for success, demand measurable performance, and never stop changing.
Plan for Success
Start every innovation in a contained, testable environment where you can tweak and adapt every element of the innovation and your operations to suit your needs. I call this stage PreScale. Stay close to the field, so you can understand what is or is not working, and why. The goal of PreScale is to quickly arrive at a scalable solution.
Demand Measurable Performance
Whether you are in the early days of PreScale, or have already scaled the innovation across your entire enterprise, your numbers are the ultimate indicator of your success.
Never Stop Changing
In today’s business environment, you are either adapting or you are dying. If your last innovation is already starting to scale, you should be preparing for your next initiative in PreScale. Tomorrow’s market will not wait for yesterday’s solutions to catch up. But when you can deliver tomorrow’s expectations to today’s market, you become the market leader.
There has never been a more exciting time to be in the delivery logistics technology sector. Covid-19 accelerated the pace of change, turning retail and logistics leaders’ long-term plans into critical short-term initiatives. The Bringg team are committed to helping the market rapidly evolve and adapt. In the last two weeks alone, we launched major transformations for three leading retailers (here’s one example). We are doubling down on our client success, our investment in innovation, and in our growth. Last week Crunchbase recognized Bringg as one of the “10 Companies to Watch on the LeadSift List of Resilient Companies”.
I believe that our market demands more than resiliency, it requires rapid, impactful innovation to scale up sales, the customer experience and operations. This is the time we scale up, when we as an industry redefine who we are and what it means to deliver the exceptional to our customers.
Source: Gartner, “Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution Technologies, 2020”, Dwight Klappich, 7 July 2020.
Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s Research & Advisory organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.