Top Supply Chain Trends in 2017 – Part I

Top Supply Chain Trends in 2017 – Part I

Top Supply Chain Trends in 2017 - Part I

It is that time of year again at Blue Horseshoe. We wish we could report that we were taking some time to sit by the fire with a beverage of choice and contemplate the trends that will most impact our clients in the coming year.

While a good part of the world celebrated the holiday season with time off, we were burning the midnight oil on projects around the world. From Microsoft Dynamics AX projects in Michigan to exploring the future of automation projects in Australia, our team was keeping the elves up and running so that our customers can deliver the best possible experience year round to their customers.

As the holiday hangover starts to fade, we now take this chance to catch our breath and see what the future has in store for 2017.

Chris ElliottBy Chris Elliott, Senior Consultant, Strategy Services

@chris_speaks on Twitter

The past few years, we have looked for a set of trends that will guide the industry for the coming year. In the last edition of this yearly prognostication, we talked about the digitization of the supply chain through new devices, technology, and services. While we are positive this trend will continue in the coming year, we believe that this year we can implement this vision by ARM-ing our customers with the tools, technology, and knowledge they need to be successful this year and in the future.

What do we mean by ARM?

We see ARM as a framework for explaining this year’s trends as well as handling how our customers should take on the uncertainty in the supply chain. It stands for:

A = Analyze
R = Retrofit
M = Modernize

We can use ARM to cover a series of tools and technologies critical to business success in 2017, so are you ready to, “ARM yourself for Success in Developing the Supply Chain of the Future?”

Let’s get started and see how this applies to the trends facing us in 2017.


Situational Analysis

We enter 2017 with some uncertainty. With political changes happening in the United States and across Europe, many businesses could take a pause to evaluate the economic climate that develops before taking the leap into a major initiative. That is a very prudent step, and companies like Blue Horseshoe can help guide companies. Because of the uncertainty, we see a few critical technologies coming to the forefront this year that will aid companies in analyzing their current and future business requirements.

Blue Horseshoe conducts business analysis activates in countries around the world, and through our dedicated Supply Chain services team, we can provide you with insights into not only your business, but outside factors that could affect your business in the coming year.

Advanced Data Collection and Reporting Systems

Big data has been the thing for years, and it continues to dominate our trends year after year. With the increasingly ubiquitous nature of big data, the conversation continues to change from storing big data to how we are collecting and analyzing our data. This is where the next generation of Advanced Data Collection and Reporting Systems comes into play. With the continued development of NoSQL and the many flavors of massively distributed systems in the Azure Cloud, Blue Horseshoe can work with clients to put their data to good use with the next generation of databases and Business Intelligence systems.

This year, companies will look to be able to make rapid decisions based on their data and the reporting engines that are available in Azure will continue to deliver real-time analytics. This will enable companies to speed up their decision making and adapt to changes in operations.

Machine Learning and Prediction Engines

The current generation of analytic packages are good at displaying real time information. That is good if someone is sitting there looking at the reports and responding when the dashboards show trouble. The challenge is that reporting engines require humans to monitor them and respond to what they see in the data.

What if there was a technology that would monitor the system and respond intelligently if it detects an anomaly in the data?

In the coming years, we will see systems that do not require constant human input to react to changing data. Collectively, this is a subset of what Machine Learning and Prediction engines are able to do. They look for trends in the data and use complex mathematical algorithms to determine the next best course of action. What is great is that they can get feedback and provide better analysis with additional data.

This might sound a little far-fetched, but take a look around. It is machine learning that is bringing autonomous vehicles to our roads. In the world of finance, it is starting to outperform humans to the point that some hedge funds are replacing their analysts with Machine Learning systems. As 2017 progresses, we are going to see these learning engines enter into our supply chains to make decisions that in the past have been done by humans.


After conducting a full analysis, many companies shouldn’t jump right away into automating everything. With the uncertainty that continues to be present, there are a multitude of trending technologies that we will look to augment our customers supply chain with to provide more data, improved operations, and reductions to overall labor expense.

IoT for Automation of Data Collection

If there is one prediction that wasn’t quite as hot as we predicted last year it is IoT, which would be the top technology bust of 2016. So,why are we listing it in 2017? We believe that one of the keys to the supply chain of the future is the Internet of Things and without smart sensors and devices, you won’t realize all of the benefits of advanced data collection, reporting, and machine learning without a network of smart IoT devices feeding the data to the analysis systems.

Where IoT can have an impact right now is in monitoring intensive activity. From heavy machinery to pipelines, IoT has a real impact on monitoring performance and feeding data to analytics tools that can help predict when maintenance is required. While not everyone has a smart home today, we are still talking about it in the industry and it will take time for the products to mature and become more user friendly.


I know, we talk about voice every single year. But the power of voice in the supply chain continues be a key factor in retrofitting existing operations. Voice is a trend, and will continue to be a trend as more companies look to automate end customer facing operations. As speed continues to be a driving factor to customer service, voice driven systems promise to allow greater flexibility and free the workers to focus on the task in front of them, rather than a screen.

While screens will not go away in every facility, we will see more companies in 2017 utilize voice to direct their workers in receiving, picking, put away, and even some inventory related work. 2017 will see voice get smarter with the use of natural language processing as well as utilization outside of the warehouse and in pickup and delivery operations.

As the warehouse of the future expands outside of the four walls, so will the need to recognize the role that voice directed activities have to play in the supply chain. That is why Blue Horseshoe has been working with our partners to voice-enable more functions in Microsoft Dynamics AX to free users from their screens.


We just mentioned that voice can do many things, but there are still some workflows where you have to have a screen to get information. From small assembly operations to a divided pick cart operation, sometimes people need a way to see that they are putting the right item in the right location. This is one of the key use cases for the next generation of vision systems that are entering market.

Where the magic happens is when you are able to combine vision with the power of voice. This enables workers to be hands-free in pick pack ship operations. As 2017 progresses, more people will begin to see some of the amazing work that is being done with vision picking and what the next generation of technology will bring.

Blue Horseshoe is excited to begin our development work in augmented reality and are looking forward to being able to show clients the power that vision has in future projects.

So ends Part 1 of this year’s trends.

What’s next?

In part 2 we will talk about what Wal Mart, Home Depot, and Kroger know about augmenting their material handling equipment and what that will mean for 2017. We will also look to see what technologies and trends will help us reduce our labor force and lead us to our vision for the supply chain of the future.

We hope you will stay tuned.

Upcoming Events

APQCChris will be presenting a webinar on March 22 – “Warehouse of the Future” for APQC at 11 a.m. CST.


ProMatChris will also be presenting a “Step by Step Guide to Implementing the Supply Chain of the Future” at Promat 2017 on Monday, April 3, at 3 p.m. For info on this:


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