At the launch of any new technology, the inevitable question is "How will this impact me?" But the problem with that question is that it's impossible to provide a complete answer – and that lack of an answer may be limiting the benefits you could reap if you use it as an excuse to not invest.
For example, we've been talking about the internet of things for a few years already, and we've only scratched the surface of where experts think it will go. And adoption by distributors remains relatively low.
At the same time, "Industry 4.0 applications and industrial internet of things (IIoT) solutions have been disrupting the global manufacturing industry since the term Industry 4.0 was coined more than six years ago at Hannover Messe," writes Larry Turner, CEO of Hannover Fairs USA Inc., in an article for IndustryWeek. And it's becoming the norm in many manufacturing facilities to improve productivity and prevent unexpected down time.
But IIoT, robotics and artificial intelligence – just to name a few examples – are becoming critical aspects of other parts of the supply chain, as well. Real-time visibility between supply chain partners helps create a more stable and reliable supply chain. (Read more in Data Sharing Key in New Supply Chain.) Robotics have moved from the factory floor to fulfill back-office functions more accurately and effectively.
In July, Infor announced its new artificial intelligence platform, Coleman, to "augment human potential." It can serve as a personal assistant, responding to conversational speech to retrieve records or place orders. But it can also analyze the vast amounts of data available to provide recommendations on price optimization or inventory management, among many other things. The company says it expects to launch even more functionality in the coming months.
And they're not alone.
So what does it mean for you? Distributors play a critical role in the current supply chain, but if they're not willing to adopt the new tools their partners want to use, they may be left in the dust. (Read more in IoT Poised to Alter the Supply Chain.)
At a deeper level, partnering with your suppliers and customers to help develop ways to implement these technologies and improve efficiency – ultimately cutting total costs – can help strengthen the partnership and prove your value to them.
It's not a one-time investment of money; it's an ongoing process of adoption and innovation. And it's what the future market will demand. You can't just stay on the same path you've been on and hope that no one will ask for more. They already are, whether you're noticing or not.
Don't wait for your partners and customers to drive your change; be the leader that drives change for them. If you're bringing something of value that they're not getting elsewhere, you've got the competitive edge.