SXSW: An Unconventional Place to Find the Future of Supply Chain

SXSW: An Unconventional Place to Find the Future of Supply Chain | Transportfolio

Austin, Texas. Home to the University of Texas. A place they like to keep weird. And the host city for South by Southwest (SXSW). Revered as the greatest place to discover the next big innovation, it welcomes thousands of people with common goals to share ideas, pitch their innovation, seek insights and learn the latest in content, products, and technology.

You might wonder if SXSW offers anything for supply chain and logistics—I’m here to tell you there’s a lot of conversation around topics that impact logistics today and well into the future.

The Future of Supply Chain: 4 Takeaways from SXSW

1. Big data and lots of it
From logistics operations to your finance department and beyond, data science has proven to change the game. But, while we have 20 years of data from the internet—can you believe the internet is 20 years old?—the problems big data can solve are limited, for now.

Until we find and support the use case for the 20 years of data many companies have, it may continue to just be a topic of discussion. Building that case and the technology to do something with big data might just lead to predictive thinking and proactive execution like never before.

Think of the potential impact to your supply chain—predictive planning, risk avoidance, and productivity are just a couple of examples that the future may hold.

2. Use of bots for customer service
Bots have entered our world and will continue to become an interactive tool. Artificial intelligence is advancing to where machines can now recognize language at a high level and fast rate. Messaging is exploding in growth and chat is being used as a major communication vehicle.

It’s important to note that bots won’t replace real relationships, but they will supplement them to provide quick and easy answers through digital platforms. Go to a website, ask a question, and you get a quick answer. Imagine how this might change how you work every day.

The tasks or questions may be similar, but how you get those answers may change with this technology. Alexa (the Amazon bot) already serves that purpose in households around the world. It’s only a matter of time until bot technology is ready to serve your business and your supply chain.

3. Tomorrow’s talent: Not just millennials or Gen Z
Companies aren’t just innovating with technology. They’re looking at the talent pool as an opportunity to drive innovation and change. For example, Pfizer employed a Baby Boomer as an intern—Paul Critchlow. At 70 years of age, he brought significant life experience to his team of millennials during his summer internship with the company.

The idea was to cross pollinate generations to see what they could leverage and learn. Pfizer discovered that creating an intergenerational team can be really positive and lead to great outcomes for companies and the individuals engaged in such a program.

We talk a lot about millennial talent and supply chain talent; now I wonder what the future of supply chain talent may be. How will millennials and boomers be able to really listen to each other and drive innovation for their companies? One thing for sure is they both have “big movements” and “generational disruption” in common more than any other generations.

4. From Ferris Bueller to supply chains
There are literally thousands of sessions at SXSW. And each one offers a completely different perspective. Long-time attendees will tell you to sit in on sessions that don’t directly tie to your line of work. At least one.

When I found a session on teen movies from the 1980s, I knew that was my session. The discussion centered around a book written about the filming locations of many 1980s movies—remember Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Stand By Me? It focused on how those locations have evolved over time. While the discussion was extremely interesting, I really didn’t see a direct tie to my day job in logistics.

Until one moment at the very end when the author had to explain that his book wasn’t delivered on time. Instead, attendees could buy it on Amazon after the conference. It reminded me, as these things often do, about the importance of supply chains and the dependencies our global communities have on the movement of goods and services.

Bottom line: SXSW is for supply chains
I have highlighted only four of the millions of discussions held this past week at SXSW Interactive. There were so many sessions on drones, wearables, driverless vehicles, IoT, digital disruption, startup transportation technologies, and other trends that we can’t cover it all here. I truly believe that if even a small percentage of the technologies and innovations from SXSW become a reality, our world and our work will become an even cooler place to be.

Just remember the famous quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The same can be said for today’s and tomorrow’s technologies. I encourage you to consider what innovation you may be overlooking or are just curious about and learn more. Dig in, apply it to our industry, and bring about change.

I’d love to hear what innovations—whether they relate to supply chains or not—you think are on the verge of making it big. Or, if you attended SXSW, what were your thoughts on the conference?

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