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The big ideas of Gartner Supply Chain 2018

Eric Lange


Supply chain leaders from all over the globe gathered in the desert of Phoenix for this year’s Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference to learn, network, and discuss ideas that will shape the supply chain of the future. Let’s look back at the key themes of the week.

Digital disruption: Hype vs. reality

Fareed Zakaria, CNN anchor and Washington Post contributor, planted the seed for the week’s discussions in his keynote with this reminder: “Innovation is not about machines; it’s about asking ‘what do people want?’” For the supply chain, those people are the consumers. To effectively serve their needs, supply chain innovation must focus on the needs of the consumer.

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), blockchain, IoT, robotics, and 3-D printing came up again and again in conversations and presentations alike. The promise of technologies like these is immense, and the hype is reaching a fever pitch, but practical benefits are still unproven. Gartner’s Ken Chadwick and Dana Stiffler went as far as saying that we’re in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” (a Gartner Hype Cycle term) and in danger of slipping down into the “Trough of Disillusionment” because of few real results.

What should you take away from all this talk of peaks and troughs? Michael Burkett of Gartner hit the nail on the head when he said the biggest obstacle to digital supply chain transformation is the lack of a clear roadmap. Companies risk being left behind unless they clarify their end goal and build a new supply chain for a new market.

The dawn of a new supply chain leader

Although technology has had a transformative impact on supply chains, the people involved are still essential. A truly effective supply chain leader collaborates effectively with many business units; leadership, communication, and influence are must-have skills. Instead of being replaced by machines, the supply chain leader of the future will be comfortable working alongside machines.

Instead of fearing this “rise of the machines,” stay ahead of the curve by focusing on developing both your technical knowledge and communication skills to make sure you’re well-equipped to handle the future of supply chain functionality. Michael Burkett of Gartner described the supply chain leader of the future as collaborative, innovative, and augmented.

  • Collaborative emphasizes the importance of working with many different leaders across the business.
  • Innovative leaders keep on top of technology trends and think of how those trends can be integrated into their supply chain.
  • Augmented leaders are comfortable working alongside machines and machine-driven technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning on a daily basis.

Kevin O’Marah, who presented a future-focused keynote at this Gartner conference, offers an interesting take on this idea with his vision of four new supply chain jobs in this blog from Supply Chain World, “Future of work: four supply chain careers for 2025.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a silo

It’s tough to innovate the supply chain on your own. You need support and collaboration from your counterparts in other planning functions. In a session on sales and operations planning, Mike Griswold from Gartner emphasized that you may have strong individual processes, but the risks and opportunities for growth often come in the connections between the processes. And in a session on the digital supply chain, Gartner’s Stephen Meyer made the point that a main struggle for companies in adopting new technology is effective integration across their networks. In today’s dynamic, interconnected supply chain network, it’s essential to build solid connections inside the enterprise, and then to the extended network of suppliers, distributors, and partners. For more on these ideas, dig into our three-step plan for a connected supply chain planning in our white paper “Three steps toward achieving a connected supply chain.”

Derek Davis, VP of Operations at Carter’s, shared with a large audience how a Connected Planning approach powers their supply chain growth. Driven by the Anaplan platform, focusing on the connections within Carter’s supply chain has made a huge difference, to the tune of eliminating eight days of inventory from their supply chain, while at the same time improving service levels! Derek also mentioned that Carter’s cancelled an approved and scheduled $50 million ERP implementation project when they realized that Anaplan could meet all of their needs.

To top the week off, it was thrilling to see so many of Anaplan’s supply chain customers in the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25.* Congratulations to all who made the list.

See you next year in Phoenix!

*Gartner press release, “Gartner Announces Rankings of the 2018 Supply Chain Top 25,” May 17, 2018.

Topic: Supply Chain Management