There’s a maelstrom of emerging technologies and services for distributors to monitor, according to Simon Anderson. In particular, electric, blockchain and AI will reshape distribution, and quickly. Anderson, a self-described futurist, last week delivered the keynote address during the Power Transmission Distributors Association’s 2021 Industry Summit in Atlanta.
As a futurist, Anderson said he looks across a wide variety of industries to develop his perspectives about the not-too-distant future. “We really have to pay attention to all things that are happening directly in front of us and at the edges to get a preview of some of the things that are going to be very important later on in our careers, in our companies and our industry,” he said.
Here’s a look at some of Anderson’s suggested emerging technologies and services for distributors to monitor:
Going electric — Anderson said we will look back at 2021 as the year that electric vehicles, batteries and container ships started to take off. Going beyond early adaptors like Tesla, Ford, General Motors, BMW and others have vowed to have the bulk of their lineups powered by electricity as early as 2025.
Much-improved batteries will also fuel electric delivery trucks that will help alleviate supply chain constraints and labor shortages while operating 24/7, in a safer manner. Anderson said electric semis would dramatically help retain truck drivers, since they run in a fast, clean and efficient manner — without the smell of diesel.
To get containers to ports, autonomous container ships are also in the works. Anderson said Yara Birkeland, the world’s first zero-emission, autonomous cargo ship that’s powered by a 7 MWh battery, will replace 40,000 truck journeys a year between two coastal towns in Norway once it launches later this year.
“Even United Airlines has placed orders for over 100 electric planes,” he said. “These are for regional lines.”
Blockchain — Blockchain originally was developed for Bitcoin. It tracks transactions as statements of facts that can be used in a digital economy by businesses, regulators, distributors and their customers. By creating virtual ledgers, distributors and manufactures are able to track and manage information across various parties in a value chain, which would be particularly valuable for supply chains, according to Anderson. He advised Industry Summit attendees to keep a close eye on blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Artificial intelligence — AI is already in use by some of the largest B2B distributors and their customers, but the runway for future applications and services is quite long. A salesperson will be able to use AI during a call with a customer. In that instance, AI provides automatic recommendations to specific objections raised by the customer. It could also provision checklists for customer service on the fly in real time during the sales call.
When applied to hiring, potential employees could submit video responses to a list of questions. If they mess up, they can re-record their videos.
“The AI looks at the recordings and finds the best candidates for that specific job, and then it goes to humans for the final interview,” Anderson said. “If you have people who are a much better fit for the job, they’re going to be happier and more productive. This technology is still early [stage].”
AR/VR — While it’s in the early stages, augmented reality (AR) glasses could enable a 3D image of a person to float in a distributor’s office space for use during a sales call. Instead of doing a “Brady Bunch” lineup of faces on a Zoom call, virtual reality (VR) can be used to create global meeting settings in new environments.
RFID — Anderson also cited a company in Wisconsin where two-thirds of its employees agreed to have RFID chips implanted into their hands to help prevent hackings. Those employees are also able to log into their computers, use the chips to buy items from vending machines and open their office doors. Employees could receive financial spiffs for agreeing to the chip implants.
“This is still at the edge, but it’s another thing to consider,” Anderson said.
Beyond the ways electric, blockchain and AI will reshape distribution, he added, “I’ll leave you with this question … what actions are you going to take in the future?”