Innovation maze


How can you identify the innovations that will really take your company forward? Both the general media and the trade press regularly feature create an innovation maze with the extensive coverage of the latest emerging technologies: artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, 3D printing, robotization, autonomous vehicles, smart sensors, the Internet of Things and blockchain. These technologies also receive plenty of attention at conferences and events which promise – usually implicitly – to guide delegates through the innovation maze.

In early June I attended a two-day conference in Lisbon on the world of e-commerce logistics. During the event, I got to know a manager who is responsible for a large German retailer’s omnichannel logistics. We attended a presentation together by a start-up that offers a digital freight-forwarding platform, and afterwards I asked her what she thought of the solution. She replied that she’d heard nothing new and that her company already had the same visibility that was being offered, which I was a little surprised at.

I mentioned that we’d recently organized the second edition of our European Supply Chain Start-up Contest and that we’ve seen a wide variety of innovations. When I started telling her about one particular start-up that uses sensors to analyse warehouse processes and ABC classifications, she immediately became enthusiastic: “Yes, that sounds interesting. That’s just what I’m looking for.”

Trend Compass

To help decision-makers in their laborious search for the best technological innovations for them, we’ve developed the Supply Chain Media Trend Compass. The model visualizes the various trends as well as different innovation drivers such as transparency, visibility, personalization, sustainability, convenience and experience. Based on our recent survey of supply chain managers and directors, we’ve positioned the technological applications with respect to the three generic strategies: Product Leadership, Operational Excellence and Customer Intimacy.

As seen in the BBC TV programme Dragon’s Den, for example, investors regularly invite start-ups to pitch their solutions. I recently did something similar with a group of European country managers from a global logistics service provider. What I realized following that session with the logistics service managers as well as my conversation with the German retail manager is that you need to see a variety of innovations to be able to spot the right one.

Martijn Lofvers, Chief Trendwatcher Supply Chain Media