A fading middle class is cause for endless hand wringing among politicians and commentators, but emerging technologies look likely to spawn new businesses on top of the existing economy. Among big company supply chain executives the use of robotics and big data are obvious, but some other new technologies aren’t so clear.
Creative entrepreneurs however, will find ways to make money extending the operational capabilities of these same corporate giants. In the process, they’ll add new jobs even as the old ones fade away.
In SCM World’s 2014 survey of over 1000 supply chain executives, we found five emerging technologies that were deemed “interesting, but of unclear usefulness” by over 40% of respondents. Unlike big data analytics, which was decisively labelled “disruptive and important”, or drones, which most called irrelevant, these five are up for grabs. These emerging technologies offer some Wild West–style entrepreneurialism that could create wealth and jobs for those who who see over the horizon.
Sharing economy – Aka Uber, this tech trend scored lowest as “disruptive and important” – and yet, tops in curiosity. The supply chain angle is about utilisation of idle assets, with a second-order effect in labour matching. Supply chain–friendly examples include Instacart, which is a winner for Whole Foods Market, or Cargomatic, which helps California shippers find trucks. These connect asset-leveraged entrepreneurs with corporate customers looking for incremental capacity. An Uber-style service for milling machinery, refrigerated warehousing or any other supply chain asset can’t be far away.
Cloud computing – Most in supply chain see that this is important, but aren’t sure what to do with it. Salesforce.com makes a world of sense for field sales operations, but what about ERP and supply chain systems where it would really help to have easy-on, minimal-integration support for order management or planning? This would work for companies of any size struggling to integrate acquired operations or harmonise global sites on different versions of big ERP. Kenandy, GT Nexus, One Network, and Kinaxis are doing it now for businesses like Del Monte and NCR. Why not you?
Digital supply chain – No one thinks this is irrelevant, but very few know how to exploit it. The obvious but unreachable icon here is Apple, whose consumer experience is mostly digitised, with apps “delivered” electronically after sale. In fact, many other use cases are also possible, including apps written for energy efficiency on the Panoptix buildings control platform from Johnson Controls. The hardware (air conditioners, thermostats, condensers) is already there – better uses of it come from software, delivered electronically after the fact. Why not do the same thing with household appliances, cars and medical devices? Samsung, Tesla and GE are on it already. App developers have a lot more than just the iPhone or Android to work on.
3D printing – As a prototyping aid, this is old news. For production it is newer, but still largely limited to high-value, low-volume uses, like aerospace parts. Between these two poles, however, lies opportunity. For instance, production quality tools for blow-moulded bottles: limited-edition shapes in packaging might make sense to spur sales of sugary drinks or specialty shampoos. As an extension of the marketing or product development function, this begs for a different kind of talent. As a third party–contractor market, it is also ripe for the maker-movement of innovative start-ups.
Internet of things – Smart hardware is everywhere. What to make of it, however, isn’t always obvious. Inventory savings sound good, but most are pretty lean already. How about smart machines like the sensor-loaded earth-moving equipment from Caterpillar, whose Product Link system lets customers track and manage fleets of trucks and excavators more efficiently? Here again, entrepreneurs able to layer services on top of existing machine networks could thrive, serving both maker and user alike. Why not IoT enabled field service for home appliances or office equipment?
Schumpeterian destruction says new jobs will emerge from the charred earth of the current technology revolution, but they won’t look like the jobs they replace. Rather than entry level positions with a career track, many new jobs may look more like a 21st century cottage industry.
They will also be hard to track and tax. Good luck to the IRS!
This article was written by Kevin O’Marah from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.