Our supply-chain future: fair sharing

Over the next ten years, the leading principle for supply chains will change from the organization of superabundance to the coordination of scarcity. After the third and the fourth revolutions in chains, will we soon see a fifth revolution that will fundamentally change supply chains?

Major changes come in waves. After the agrarian revolution and the industrial revolution there was the technological revolution. At this moment, we are riding the crest of the fourth wave of revolution, which is the consequence of the “Internet of Things”: major upheavals resulting from innovations in information and communications technology. Is a fifth wave coming soon? What will that wave mean for supply chain managers?

Greedy little pigs

Around the world, the “Internet of Things” has turned supply chains upside-down: from push to pull. Today, the consumer is the logistics coordinator. Consumers are better informed than ever and manage to find their own way to the best offers. Everything revolves around a unique customer experience. Consumers are greedy little pigs: everything has to be fresher, faster, safer and more complete. The planning and steering is “sense and respond”.

Not yet every company has grasped what paperless processes, mobile communication and the sharing economy are going to mean for them. Some companies are still struggling just to make their web store profitable and are being smothered in returned goods.

Yet other companies have simply gone out of business, as they did not manage to adapt in time. How many managers in the retail, wholesale and logistics sectors did not bury their head in the sand? They were just going to wait and see. By now there are already signs that another round of changes will be necessary.

Fair sharing

Existing supply chains are failing to respond adequately to societal themes such as the scarcity of raw materials, the concerns about our food supply, the widening gulf between the rich and the poor (also in the Netherlands), the informal care for the elderly in our midst, and our health. The fourth revolution brought about superabundance, but the predicted sharing economy certainly has not led to fair sharing.

The arrival of the fifth wave is inevitable. Supply chains need to be set up on the basis of the circular economy and fair sharing. Three out of four Maxi-Cosi products are already being sold between consumers themselves. Later this year, B2B mail-order company Manutan will open an online marketplace through which neighboring companies can rent or loan equipment and supplies to each other. Port installations are preparing themselves for a future without oil.

The principle for supply chains is changing from the organization of superabundance to the coordination of scarcity: “predict and prevent”.

Chain collaboration

Only chain collaboration can help to prevent a lack of food and bring about fewer emissions on the road and a better reuse of raw materials. No single company can do that on its own. World-class scientists have shown that cooperation, not competition, was the key to evolution.

The fourth wave brought us the absolute power of the individual. The fifth wave needs to put us back on the path of cooperation. That change is not going to come about through political policies or information technology, but through peer pressure. Unfortunately, none of us dares to point out each other’s antisocial behavior any more. Also not in the workplace within the logistics sector.  And yet that is what needs to happen.

I wish everyone a bit less opportunism, but also the courage, when working together with saboteurs, to call them to account for their behavior. After decades of “me”, it’s high time for more room for the other!

Walther Ploos van Amstel is lector Citylogistics at Amsterdam university of applied sciences