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10 supply chain technologies shaping the future

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the consumer goods shortage became more urgent, sparking broader discussions about supply chain technologies.

Supply chain leaders had very little time to address logistics disruptions and sudden swings in demand. They had to rewire operations with new supply chain technologies that helped them be more flexible and agile in a time of crisis.

Supply chain inefficiencies and disruptions

According to a survey by WHO in 2020, the global supply chain is struggling to deliver supplies of food and medical instruments, including masks and medicine.

Based on a Deloitte survey, supply chains around the world have been disrupted by cost-cutting, lower inventory, inefficient asset utilization, and the blockage of both people and materials. The pandemic has laid bare the weaknesses of the supply chain industry, as essential parts of global supply chains have simply stopped operating during the pandemic.

In the second quarter of 2020, McKinsey research surveyed 60 senior supply chain executives about the impact of the pandemic on their supply chain operations and their future plans to use supply technologies to be a more flexible and agile organization.

The research revealed that 100% of respondents face major problems with production and distribution. A whopping 85 percent of respondents struggle with inefficient digital technologies in their supply chains. Additionally, 90% of respondents planned to increase the amount of digital supply-chain talent through internal reskilling and external hires.

As the global pandemic strained the supply chain, it motivated logistics and transportation companies to implement new supply chain technologies to improve operations and stay resilient.

10 supply chain technologies to watch

Let’s look at 10 supply chain technologies and innovations that will shape the industry during the pandemic and beyond.  

Internet of Things (IoT) 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used to describe a network of physical objects embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies to exchange information with other devices over the Internet.

IoT can monitor supply chain operations, infrastructure, and storage, as well as improve workflows and reduce supply chain costs.

Furthermore, supply chain companies that implement IoT can use sensors to improve manufacturing, transportation, and utility.  Sensors authenticate the location of goods and track the speed of goods in motion.

IoT also improves the transfer of tracking data, therefore reducing potential setbacks such as human error, workforce shortage, cramped budgets, lost goods, and adverse weather conditions.

AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have been key technologies for supply chain companies during the pandemic, helping them make use of automation and advanced analytics.

The biggest advantage of AI and ML platforms is the ability to ingest massive amounts of historical and real-time streaming data. For example, AI/ML uses automation to accelerate product delivery to take advantage of better pricing and availability.

5G wireless networks 

The fifth generation of wireless technology — aka 5G — is reshaping the future of the supply chain industry by allowing more devices to become a part of the “Internet of Things.”

Throughout the supply chain process, IoT devices produce an incredibly rich data stream, which sends real-time signals to trigger various events aided by superfast 5G download and upload speeds.

Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are set to be the next frontier in the supply chain, as more companies pour money into development. We don’t yet live in a world where fleets of unmanned delivery vehicles cruise our highways, but companies have been testing autonomous vehicles as far back as 2016 and continue to test new and improved solutions. 

Forbes magazine predicts that the first autonomous vehicle fleet will be ready to “hit the road” in 2024 at the latest.  While there is still uncertainty about the widespread use of autonomous vehicles, the potential benefits for the transport and logistics industry – improved environmental sustainability and productivity (after all, machines don’t take breaks) – are vast enough to keep self-driving vehicles a top-tier supply chain technology for the foreseeable future.

Automated robotic storage

Automated robotic storage combines a traditional warehouse shuttle system and a free-roaming robot. The technology has seen moderate use at several companies, and it will only become more widely used across the supply chain.

The benefits of automated robotic storage for the supply chain are storage density, faster workflow and productivity, and more flexibility due to the dynamic movement of bots.

Supply chain control towers

A supply chain control tower is a centralized dashboard — a cloud-based platform that integrates ERP, WMS, and TMS systems, as well as other operational information — that provides real-time data, metrics, and events across all areas of a company’s supply chain.

By turning raw data into actionable insights, control towers deliver full track-and-trace visibility of shipments and help reduce costs and respond promptly to supply chain disruptions. In an industry where even marginal savings add up, harnessing data to improve operations will play a major part in a company’s success.

Robotic process automation (RPA)

True to its name, robotic process automation (RPA) technology automates critical tasks that would otherwise be executed manually. “Order processing” and “inventory management” are common examples of RPA tasks in the supply chain. RPA allows supply chain organizations to (re)train employees for problem-solving work instead of repetitive robotic tasks.

A recent research report by Information Services Group says about 72% of companies will use RPA to automate support tasks. Furthermore, using RPA results in a 43% time reduction for tasks such as billing, collection, and credit.


Blockchain technology allows data to be stored across thousands of servers, providing a more efficient and safe way to share information between businesses. Because each block in the chain is securely linked together using cryptography, the transfer of data is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to hack.

In a supply chain context, blockchain provides users with a complete history of a product, as it contains proper documentation of every transaction from start to finish. This makes every product traceable through the different business processes a product goes through, from the factory to the customer. According to KPMG, blockchain technology can help measure carbon emissions with greater speed, accuracy, and transparency.

Smart contracts 

Smart contracts are basically digital agreements stored on a blockchain that run automatically when predetermined terms and conditions are met.

For the supply chain industry, smart contracts are used, for example, to automatically generate an invoice when a shipment reaches its destination or conduct financial transactions between parties.

More businesses are using smart contracts to settle payments using cryptocurrencies automatically. The process of smart contracts makes transactions much faster as there is no need for arbitration from a trusted party.

Digital twins

A digital twin in the supply chain is a virtual replica of a physical object or system, such as a warehouse, transportation network, or production facility.

The advantage of using a digital twin is that it collects supply chain operations and maintenance data into a single repository of information. Using supply chain digital twins ultimately allows companies to visualize their end-to-end supply chains in one virtual environment where they can identify bottlenecks and fix them quickly.

A more resilient supply chain industry

As COVID-19 forced entire industries to rethink their business strategies, supply chain technologies are more important than ever.

The supply chain industry of today is unrecognizable compared to a decade ago. This is the direct result of the influence and implementation of supply chain technologies and innovation. The crisis has given the transport and logistics industry a unique opportunity to reinvent itself as more agile and resilient. 

Want to learn more about how HTEC’s technology expertise can transform your business? Explore our Technical Strategy and Transport & Logistics capabilities.