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As we step into 2022, stakeholders across the supply chain are crossing their fingers that things will be better this year than last. Many factors will need to change for that to be the case, including the embrace of common and ongoing themes that become more critical with each day that passes.

Themes like resiliency, end-to-end visibility, cybersecurity, and sustainability—just to name a few. While organizations largely understand the need, getting there can be easier said than done. However, by applying the right resources to the mix—including familiar and emerging technologies—some experts are optimistic about the potential that lies ahead.

Last week, we took a look at how one new emerging technology—blockchain—is being applied to enhance supply chain optimization. This week, we’re digging into a recently-released report from Transport Intelligence (Ti) with predictions for tech trends in the coming year.

The Importance of Familiar and Emerging Tech

In a whitepaper, Ti Technology Trends 2022, Ti’s Ken Lyon provides his annual predictions for the year ahead related to key emerging trends and “ever changing logistics technology dynamics.”

Lyon notes that while many of the technologies that will be important in 2022 have been underscored for their importance in the past, it can be difficult for organizations to deploy them effectively—especially in the context of the supply chain where there are so many players involved.

“The likelihood is that companies often overestimate their ability to exploit new technologies and underestimate the challenges,” Lyon writes.

However, that doesn’t diminish their importance as individual and collective technologies for the year ahead, as he notes: “Over the past 5 years we have consistently identified the following technologies as critical elements that must be present to compete in the present market. In our view, they remain essential technologies for effective operation in the logistics and supply chain management sphere. However, they are no longer ‘innovations’ in themselves, but their application on various situations may be considered ‘innovative’.”

The technologies listed are:

  • Information Security

  • Infrastructure and operating platforms: Mobile devices, broadband access, and cloud applications

  • Critical applications: Visibility, combination WMS/fulfilment, TMS/shipping system

Lyon also describes emerging technologies and “trends which should continue to be monitored.”

Emerging Technologies for 2022

The following snippets describe the emerging technologies Lyon predicts for 2022 that will have an impact on supply chain stakeholders. For full descriptions, please see the whitepaper.

  • Web 3.0. Lyon says that in a Web 3.0 framework, “applications can search, identify, link and exchange information themselves, often aided by machine learning and ultimately, artificial intelligence.” This ability will “change how organisations use systems and potentially, how systems themselves become autonomous organisations,” he notes, and cites blockchain technologies as early examples of this type of decentralized approach.

  • Decentralised Knowledge Graphs. Describing these as “entities that hold data and information in a manner that is rich in context and relevance,” Lyon says a “very rich map of data entities and their connections, associations, and related interactions” can be created, which would support increased visibility for the logistics sector. In fact, since supply chains can be so complex, “…a distributed knowledge graph that exploits some of the technologies used by the decentralised blockchain networks described above, will be profound,” he writes.

  • Smart Reverse Logistics. Noting the burden of reverse logistics, Lyon envisions hope on the horizon using smart technologies: “…technologies such as the internet of things and real time tracking now make it possible to design returns processes that are more efficient and sustainable.”

  • Hybrid Networks/Ecosystems–Simplification. Although digitization of the supply chain is an imperative, Lyon says that multiple network connections result in complex “jungles” of connections that increase cybersecurity risks, since “interfaces between networks have always been a significant risk point in any network.” However, if companies can simplify their network infrastructures, “the number of openings for attackers will be reduced.”

  • Continuous Cyber Monitoring: Although cybersecurity audits are common, Lyon says they aren’t enough. Instead, “continuous monitoring of potential threats and attacks to networks” are needed. He cites standards from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for “information security continuous monitoring (ISCM)” and the UK government’s “published guidance regarding cyber risk (including specifically for supply chain operations), through the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).”

Supply Chain Tech Trends to be Monitored in 2022

In addition to emerging trends, Lyon lists the following technology trends “that should continue to be monitored” in the year ahead. Please see the whitepaper for full descriptions.

  • Machine Learning/Computer Vision “as a service.” Describing Machine Learning as a Service (MLaas) as “a range of capabilities provided by experts in various branches of artificial intelligence (AI) through Cloud service providers,” Lyon says MLaas services include “data visualisation, image recognition/computer vision, natural language processing and predictive analytics,” which could have a “profound” impact across organizations if applied in the right way.

  • Digital Twins. Describing digital twins as “digital representation of the real world,” Lyon says that although creating and applying this capability may not be easy, the potential impact could be significant “to reduce costs and improve efficiency.” For more on digital twins, please see our article: “Using Digital Supply Chain Twins to Anticipate and Plan for Disruptions.”

Although these next three aren’t specifically tech applications, Lyon notes they will be enabled by the critical technologies that will be required:

  • Local retail/fulfilment hubs. He says that current retail space is “starting to be reimagined as [a] combination of retail experience and local fulfilment and distribution centres. These facilities can be serviced by fleets of electric vehicles doing local pickup and deliveries, themselves serviced from larger out of town distribution centres.” Additionally, Lyon says many of these facilities are rapidly introducing robotic technologies.

  • Asset pooling/sharing. In a related trend, he writes that companies may start to share “facilities, delivery and distribution assets,” a concept which is now “both workable and probably desirable,” due to the many changes that have occurred. “Thanks to the general availability of Cloud services, high speed broadband and powerful mobile devices, the required networks can be established and in operation very quickly. Equally, they can be repurposed or withdrawn at will, avoiding expensive runoff costs,” Lyon writes.

  • Platforms as marketplaces. Describing global retail as being “in transition with the wholesale movement online and onto global platforms,” Lyon says the current acceleration of this shift “will transform the way retail logistics and supply chain management operates in this sector.”

Tech Perspectives from Maersk

Touching on some of the topics and themes mentioned here, Vincent Clerc – CEO Ocean and Logistic, A.P. Moller – Maersk, and Navneet Kapoor – Chief Information & Technology Officer, A.P. Moller – Maersk discuss “big tech trends on the horizon plus insights into building and leveraging tech capabilities across the business,” as well as other topics in the following video.

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