As 2018 winds down, brands need to reshape their business model. Trends demand not just improving the customer experience, but enhancing customer expectations to redefine brand positioning. Forrester’s 2018 predictions confirm that customers and markets are shifting. With the transition to digital and transparent, it’s time for a customer revolution. The future demands the effective evolution of a new supply management blueprint.

Supply management’s future does not solely depend upon logistics care and inventory management. Companies need to rethink supply management strategies, especially when customers have access to unlimited information and choices. For companies wanting an upper hand in 2018, they must do something bold, different and innovative.

The following five emerging supply management trends will provide businesses with an edge over the competition.

1.      Response to innovation and change

A brand must demonstrate the ability to incorporate innovation into its existing strategy. A change or shift in the stereotypical supply chain pattern will benefit them in the long run. Brands must shed redundant methods and continuously develop evolving strategies by responding to changing market dynamics.

Grant Marshbank, COO of VSc Solutions, states, “Supply chain managers are already under huge pressure to adapt to turbulent economies, labor issues, and expansion into global markets. Technology will only deliver the intended positive results if it is implemented with strategy and operations that adhere to best practice in supply chain management.”

Most brands have already incorporated the following into their supply management strategies: live system integration, secure data exchange processes, visibility and traceability among disparate systems across multiple supply chains and industry verticals.

2.      Thinking outside the box with respect to digital strategies

Today, every business is a digital business and the impact of digital strategies on supply chain management is of particular importance. 2018 will be shaped by the success rate of digital transformation efforts.

Many companies have realized that going digital is not the only solution for creating benchmark supply chain management strategies. Brands must get digitally-enhanced to break traditional supply management chains.

Digital technology will create a significant improvement in business outcomes, so long as businesses reinvent their supply chain strategy while concurrently reimagining their supply chain as a digital supply network (DSN) – a combination of talent, information and finance.

In today’s world, brands are becoming more transparent and digital supply chains are being showcased for their innovation and successes. When compared with traditional supply chain management, this new breed is intelligent, scalable and rapid.

Brands must develop a digital strategy that proactively provides them with an edge over their competitors. Digital supply chains provide companies with the capability for extensive information availability and enable superior collaboration and communication across digital platforms, resulting in improved reliability, agility and effectiveness.

3.      Positively exploiting artificial intelligence (AI)

AI is used by several companies as part of their supply management strategies.  These companies include Facebook, Google, Apple and Tesla. This trend will continue to be positively-exploited throughout 2018.

Mark Zuckerberg considers building an AI-powered assistant to help companies deal with supply chain stress to be an innovative idea. In one of his Facebook posts he wrote, “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” referring to the AI assistant used by Tony Stark, the movie’s fictional main character.

Machine vision and robotics have already been put into efficient use for facial recognition in industrial applications like warehouses and law enforcement systems. And still, the technological possibilities are immeasurable because they can be applied to other industrial purposes.

Some of the most exciting work in machine/computer vision, stems from subtle insight into the current deficiencies of CAD,” writes Peter Gasperini. “In order to interact with 3D models, nowadays designers are using clunky peripherals – keyboards, mice and joysticks. Machine vision systems have developed that completely bypass inefficient mechanisms through gesture recognition apparatus. Camera arrays are used to track hand and finger positions dynamically. This system then alters a 3D screen image so that a user can virtually interact with the model, reaching into the design to toggle switches, press buttons and carry operations.”

Empowering supply chain leaders and operators with advanced, predictive technologies that model future scenarios, will place brands in a position to operate their supply chains more productively. They will also develop a deeper understanding of the various driver interactions on supply chain performance.

4.      Agility and the supply chain lean

Lean supply chain fundamentals are still valuable for most companies because Agile methodology is an alternative to traditional project management.  It is typically used in software development. As a result, company associates can respond to unpredictable emergencies through incremental, iterative work cadences – Sprints.

As individualization and complexity grow amongst companies, the Lean concept is no longer a sole, effective strategy. Supply chain processes must be more agile, flexible and interactive to ensure high-quality delivery results.

The Agile supply chain management enables brands to cope with unexpected events using lightning-fast decision-making. Achieving agile leadership skills is a process rather than a 2018 supply chain trend.

5.      The webrooming and showrooming balance

The showroom experience is for the ultimate “deal seekers.” Companies in 2018 will want to offer maximum customer convenience at low prices as part of their marketing strategy. While most businesses will be inclined to find better deals online, consumers will still want the tactile experience of their product.

A research study from EE states, “Around 44% of customers – more than 20 million Brits — visit a physical store while browsing products online in the hope of finding a better deal”.

As showrooming arose as a more-effective strategy for online players, in-store retailers fought back and flipped it on its head. They created a “webrooming” experience for their customers. In-store players can utilize in-store Wi-Fi, exclusive discounts and “click & collect” online orders. This has been effective in driving people from their screens and back into stores.

Brands see showrooming and webrooming to be an upcoming trend combination in 2018. Both are equally-strong sales models not to be ignored. Regardless of whether customers prefer a showroom or webroom experience, it is important for a brand to offer omnichannel options (both offline and online).

These emerging trends will deliver positive results if strategically-implemented within operations adhering to best practices in supply chain management. Businesses will benefit from the efficient and effective operations by ensuring that supply chain entities working together is the smarter way. But the best practices and supply management trends cannot work without support. They require strong procurement practices integrated within other supply chain processes.

This article is originally written and published by CXO Today.