Conquer the rapids: Paddle through the top 4 supply chain trends of 2024

February 15th, 2024 8 minute read

Ioana Neamt

Contributing Writer

February 15th, 2024 8 minute read
Trucks stuck in traffic.

Supply chains are almost how water flows in nature. They’re complex and dynamic systems, channeling stuff from source to destination along one-way paths (*disapproving salmon noises in the background*). Consequently, supply chain management is not all that different from navigating a river either.

Let us be your skipper in this expedition through this year’s most important trends in supply chain management. Make no mistake, the paddle is in your hands, and you will have to put in most of the work. However, when you finally reach calmer waters, the sense of accomplishment makes up for all the blood, sweat, and tears. And we do have something to make the sculling easier, too!

Watch out for these four trends as you paddle down the supply chain rapids in 2024.

1. Digitization, automation, and AI

You wouldn’t throw yourself into a river in someone’s grandpa’s leaky wooden boat with your beach shorts and flip-flops on. So, why would you use outdated software to run your supply chain?

We’re in the age of generative AI and big data analytics that can help you come up with new ideas, optimize processes, and improve efficiency. Digitize every single touchpoint so you can track every move in real time. Make sure everything integrates well with your current ecosystem so you can automate your processes wherever possible.

Cloud-based solutions are made for that. If you don’t use them, your competition certainly will.

Do this in 2024

  • Find the weak points in your supply chain data flow with unavailable, unreliable, or inconsistent information, and be constantly on the lookout for solutions that cover them.
  • Do future-you a favor and plug the leaks before they get out of hand. A pinhole won’t sink your boat, but a small glitch in your reporting might set you back by miles when it comes to scalability/
  • Make cybersecurity a priority. Investing in security always proves to be cheaper than the consequences of not doing so.

2. Supply chain resilience and agility

In the rapids, you never know when you need to make a sudden twist or turn. All you can do beforehand is assess the terrain and prepare accordingly. The same is true for navigating supply chain trends.

Your business needs a resilient supply chain that can handle a hiccup or two. You can work towards that goal by diversifying sourcing strategies, establishing multiple distribution centers, and putting some robust risk management practices in place. This way, you can anticipate disruptions, adapt quickly to unforeseen challenges, and minimize their impact.

Do this in 2024

  • Invest in equipment that can handle quick changeovers and a diverse range of products, packaging, and shipment types.
  • Identify potential disruptions early on. Gather and process data to help predict demand fluctuations, optimize inventory levels, avoid stockouts, and reduce waste.
  • When hiring, prioritize flexible and versatile workforces as much as possible. Plan for more coding capacity so you can keep up with the evolving tech.

3. Sustainable sourcing, regionalization, and ESG

We already mentioned your blood, sweat, and tears, so let’s say those are fine, but that’s about all you can leave behind after a day out on the rapids. If you have any respect for Mother Nature and fellow outdoorsy folks, that is. Consumers and lawmakers care about the environment almost as much, so it goes without saying that sustainable sourcing and regionalization strategies should be high on your list this year, too.

Although water flows only downwards, it always finds its way back to the mountains. Just like those disapproving salmon, you can also start to transition to a circular supply chain model.

Using your resources for as long as possible to reduce the need for new materials is a good start. Make the 9 Rs your mantra:

  1. Refuse to receive products into your supply chain that were produced or distributed using unsustainable practices.
  2. Rethink your sourcing options and see if you can find more sustainable ways to get your products through your supply chain.
  3. Reduce the amount of packaging you use for your products, and source materials from fewer suppliers that can send you more stuff in one shipment.
  4. Reuse pallets, shipping containers, packaging materials, and everything else you find yourself throwing away often. Also, design products and packaging that your clients can reuse multiple times.
  5. Repair, update, or upgrade your equipment before replacing it. Check if there’s a way to squeeze enough performance out of it before you write it off. Find service partners so your clients can use your products for longer.
  6. Remanufacture used or defective products. If you don’t have the capacity to do this, partner with suppliers and resellers to develop a customer buyback program and remanufacture your products.
  7. Repurpose materials as much as possible and work with businesses that help upcycle your excess.
  8. Recycle all types of waste efficiently by educating your employees about selective waste collection and partner with salvage centers to ensure that your waste is recycled responsibly.
  9. Recover valuable materials from waste streams and maximize the value of all materials used in your supply chain. Partner with companies that specialize in waste recovery to optimize your resource utilization.

As awareness and demand for responsible practices continue to grow among investors and consumers, prioritizing ESG (environmental, social, and governance) considerations also becomes more and more urgent. On top of the sustainability and ethical sourcing aspect, this also includes fair labor. This helps build a reputation for ethical and responsible business practices, attracts socially conscious investors, and can also help you earn some loyal customers.

Do this in 2024

  • Source materials responsibly. Regionalize, which means bringing production closer to consumers, reducing transportation emissions and delivery times. (Wink-wink — play your cards right, and this will boost sales among eco-conscious clients long-term)
  • Collect telematics data and identify opportunities for fleet electrification, especially on urban and other short-distance routes
  • Automate labor-intensive supply chain processes
  • Set a realistic target to achieve net-zero waste and water objectives
Man with a clipboard standing in front of a concrete wall with green plants growing inside the wall.

4. Skilled labor shortage and reskilling

It’s never a good idea to paddle solo. You need some buddies, and you want to make sure they also have the skills that it takes to conquer the waves out there. Quick thinking is a must, but adaptability is just as important.

Many supply chain positions are understaffed at the moment, putting pressure on businesses to find new ways to adapt, attract and retain top talent. The creation of an engaging workplace and culture is more important than ever, but don’t overlook retention either.

Do this in 2024

  • Target diverse talent pools. Expand your hiring efforts to attract a workforce from different backgrounds and generations to build more diverse and inclusive personnel.
  • Partner with educational institutions. Collaborate with colleges and universities to develop internship programs to attract young talent early on.

Navigate turbulent supply chain trends with Katana

Intuition can let you down when you’re heading toward a nasty rock under the foaming surface. Katana is like a sonar system for your supply chain, providing you with real-time visibility into every aspect of your operations. It’s your dashboard that displays all your critical information, from inventory levels and transportation routes to supplier performance and customer satisfaction, and your control panel to keep it all under control.

With Katana, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify and address potential disruptions early on
  • Make data-driven decisions to up your efficiency and cut costs
  • Provide transparency to boost customer satisfaction
  • Go green and reduce your supply chain’s carbon footprint

We know the river inside and out. Whether you’re a seasoned rafter or just dipping your toes for the first time, Katana allows you to enjoy the ride with the confidence that you’ll reach calmer waters without putting your business in harm’s way.

Want to learn more? Book a demo today!

Ioana Neamt

Contributing Writer

With more than 10 years of copywriting experience, Ioana has a fondness for long-form writing, investigative journalism, cats, and Victorian-style mansions.

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