Few trends are receiving the level of hype lavished upon AI, IoT and blockchain. To a casual observer of enterprise technology, it may seem as though every company wants to position themselves as a leader in these technologies, but real-world use cases are more difficult to find.
It’s clear there is potential in these technologies independently but the real power will come as we develop ways they can work together. For example, combining the processing power of AI with the intelligent data capture of IoT sensors, or developing applications for blockchain technology outside cryptocurrencies. The applications for these technologies will evolve as we continue to invest in innovation, but as businesses look for ways to use it today, a compelling scenario is developing in the world’s supply chains.
These vast networks underpin the largest companies on the planet and give us the power to build the products we use every day. Supply chains rarely get the attention they deserve, yet their disruption can have a dramatic impact on everything from global markets to the availability of products we love. A calamitous weather event that damages a manufacturing facility in one part of the world can disrupt supply and product shipments across the globe.
In 2019, the usefulness of AI, IoT and blockchain technologies in the supply chain will move beyond hype. We should witness a surge in use cases across small and large-scale applications and a wide range of industries within both the public and private sector.
Blockchain standards will evolve
To drive blockchain adoption across different industries, new standards will evolve for how supply chain related information should be archived within a blockchain environment. Standards bodies such as GS1, the governing body for industry standards such as the barcode, are likely to introduce new blockchain related standards in 2019 to help accelerate the deployment of blockchain environments across global supply chains.
With standards in place, we’ll see companies implementing blockchain technology in the supply chain and starting to participate in multiple blockchains when it comes to shipping and logistics across regions. This will lead to greater efficiency and allow for a more secure and transparent way of tracking shipments and associated transactions.
For example, a combined approach featuring AI, IoT and blockchain could help in logistics and foodservice. A shipment of frozen food could be shipped and the consignment details, including purchase order number, carriers used and last mile distributors could all be written to a blockchain, providing end-to-end traceability. IoT sensors for temperature, humidity and GPS could all be included to help track the shipment’s progress and if a product arrives at its destination spoiled, it would be easier to determine what went wrong and at what point in the journey. AI systems can be layered on to the system, learning from this information to provide added intelligence and recommendations to minimize disruptions in supply.
Spurred on by blockchain adoption, autonomous supply chains will become reality
The standardization and adoption of blockchain technology will enable autonomous supply chains in 2019. Companies are already exploring blockchain-related use cases or implementing AI- and IoT-based environments across their business operations.
The greater convergence of these technologies will allow organizations to leverage new performance insights to refine business processes. For supply chains, this means improved traceability of goods and the ability to record and secure an archive of all digital interactions between companies and trading partners.
Internet of Things sensors can be used to improve supply chain visibility and improve equipment uptime with predictive maintenance applications. They can also be integrated with other technologies to assist with automatic replenishment processes. In supply chains, blockchain can be used independently to track high-value goods, manage end-to-end recalls, and provide traceability to industries such as food and beverage, or pharmaceuticals and life sciences. Combining much of the data from these technologies, AI can be used to refine inventory management and improve forecasting. On a deeper level, AI can also use the data it receives from supply chain trading partners to monitor their performance and responsiveness to customer demands.
Organizations will invest in training and expertise to close the skills gap
To maximize the benefits of this level of integration, companies need to ensure they have an end-to-end digital supply chain where every business transaction is exchanged electronically and not via paper. This highly digital approach requires different skills and a deep understanding of the underlying technologies.
With blockchain, AI and IoT talent in high demand, the industries will experience a skills gap as companies race to secure the talent they need to drive a digital-first agenda. But without enough training at the academic level, organizations will need to invest in education to fill the gaps.
The demand for talented engineers and developers in blockchain will surge as more industries understand how it will change their businesses. Organizations will find themselves ill-equipped to handle the supply-demand gap unless they begin to invest in talent almost immediately.
To bridge the gap in skills and experience, organizations will begin making investments in training courses and additional resources in 2019. Academic institutions will likely start to bolster their investments and training as well.
The level of excitement coming from both industry and academia for these technologies has been palpable, and 2019 should continue that trend. However, 2019 should set itself apart as the year more real-world cases began to demonstrate the true power of a converged solution in supply chains.
Mark Morley is the director of strategic product marketing for OpenText Business Network