Just as technology continuously evolves, so too should the way we talk about it.
For instance, when the term “disruptive technology” was first coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen over 20 years ago, it was used to refer to “any enhanced or completely new technology that replaces and disrupts an existing technology, rendering it obsolete.”
However, the term “disruptive” tends to carry a negative undertone. For many warehouse and distribution center (DC) operators, the idea that they have to migrate from legacy, trusted systems to completely new architectures dependent on “disruptive” technologies has a tendency to elicit fear, not confidence.
Flipping the Script (and Strategy): Aim for Technology That is Game-Changing, Yet Sustainable
As Gartner experts James Lisica and Amber Salley noted during their keynote address* at the 2019 Gartner Supply Chain Summit in May:
“What was once considered disruption is now considered strategy.”
To put it another way: the technologies that are usually coined “disruptive” are actually the technologies enabling you to avoid operational disruptions.
Automating historically manual processes with “machines” – whether in the form of Internet of Things (IOT), intelligent automation or machine learning systems – doesn’t lead to more significant resource strains or prolonged periods of downtime. They do just the opposite: they give you the intelligence and tools you need to minimize the risk of operational disruption as demand skyrockets, the labor pool shrinks and customization of every product and service offered becomes the standard rather than the exception.
Now, I realize that you may be more comfortable taking a “wait and see” approach to advanced technology adoption, especially if you have fully mobilized your workforce and digitalized business processes. However, customer demands are highly fluid, and the market is changing every day.
Every supply chain organization must consider ways in which they can empower humans and technology-powered systems to interact in more connected, intelligent ways today, not a year or five years from now. They must also embrace technologies such as connected sensors, 5G, augmented reality (AR), blockchain and digital twins at the edge of the enterprise. Workers need to be able to collect and visualize the right data from endpoints in real time to make the right decisions and take swift action. Those who don’t move fast enough toward this type of technology will be forced out of the market. On the other hand, enterprises committed to embracing IoT will be the first movers in becoming fast growing, intelligent businesses.
I realize that the migration from legacy platforms, such as Microsoft Windows Embedded devices, to Android devices may seem like more than enough to take on right now. However, front-line workers can’t be the sole source of data for your business. Nor can they be expected to analyze the enormous volume of information available to them in a split second.
If you want to be agile enough to keep up with customers’ ever-changing demands, you need IoT platforms, sensors, automated intelligence solutions and more working together to sense and analyze what is happening in your entire supply chain so that your front-line workers will know exactly how to act when any issue or opportunity arises. Mobile devices and the workers using them are only as smart as your intelligent enterprise systems enable them to be.
So, instead of seeing technologies as potentially disruptive, embrace them for their ability to prevent disruption and propel your business forward no matter what challenges may lie ahead.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we’re going to have to work hard to convince our customers, bosses and others that AR, AI, IoT and other buzz-worthy technologies are worth serious investment consideration right now. Together, we need to find ways to:
- Demonstrate that “disruptive technology” can be game-changing without actually being disruptive.
- Eliminate the perceived risk that embracing “disruptive technology” will slow modernization efforts or create new operational deficiencies.
- Show how supply chain organizations can integrate these types of technologies without having to change too much for their workers at once.
We can start by embracing a more collaborative approach to innovation and having more honest conversations about what has worked along with what hasn’t and why in fulfillment centers and beyond. Let’s offer each other solid proof that so-called “disruptive” technologies, if strategically integrated, can facilitate significant, sustainable business improvements without being disruptive whatsoever.
Learn more about how Zebra can help your supply chain organization develop and execute a sustainable technology strategy. Visit www.zebra.com.
*Gartner Event Presentation, Supply Chain Keynote: A New Era: Converging Physical and Digital Supply Chains, James Lisica and Amber Salley, Gartner Supply Chain Summit, 13 May 2019, Phoenix, Arizona