Daily Archives: September 29, 2014

The “Future” of Procurement: Shiny New Shoes, Part I

Eleven (11) days and thirty (30) “future” trends later and we are finally at the final three (3), and only three (3), that are really, truly future trends, and that qualify for the shiny new shoes category. And, believe it or not, the only trends that not only did not originate within Supply Management but that did not originiate within business operations either. But they are three of the future trends that are going to have a significant impact on your supply management, whether you realize it or not. And only a select few individuals in the space have even recognized their existence. (Since we protected the guilty, we’re going to be fair and protect the innocent — even though a few web searches will reveal their existence. But since only the worthy should have the opportunity to reach out to them, we’re going to make sure that these true thought leaders only get contacted by individuals who at least have enough active brain cells to Google that Sh!t.*)

3. 3-D Printing & Arduino

While 3-D printing is not a new technology, as this year is its 30th anniversary, it was only in the last decade that it became accessible to more than a handful of businesses (when the open source projects began back in 2005) and only within the last couple of years that it has become accessible to everyone (as recent Kickstarter projects have made it possible for every designer to have a 3-D printer on his desk). Now that the technology is becoming mainstream, it’s entering a rapid maturization phase in which it’s going to become better, faster, cheaper, and infinitely more powerful. As a result, prototyping is not only going to become more rapid, but more powerful. Engineers will be able to iterate through multiple prototypes in rapid succession without having to wait 6 weeks for the next iteration from the plant in China. Not only will this support the increasingly shorter and more complex product life-cycles we talked about in ongoing blues trend #14, but it will help reduce failure risk and associated costs, and increase innovation potential as now you can try the product before you commit to a production run. Then, when you combine 3-D Printing with the open source electronics platform Arduino, you’re not just limited to manufactured parts but can prototype entire systems. While a very forward looking thinker would have seen this as the next instantiation of the open-source movement that started with open-source software, it was almost impossible to predict that it would happen so soon.

2. The Share Economy

The sharing economy which, as per Wikipedia, is also known as the peer-to-peer economy, mesh, or collaborative economy, is, to be blunt, essentially, the modern incarnation of the hippie movement where people participate in the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services. Examples include bike sharing, ride sharing, home sharing, and crowd-funding to build communal projects. Except this time the ideas are more business friendly, flower power is not needed, and the clock isn’t perpetually stuck at 4:20 (unless you include Craigslist).

However, the share economy, which is currently in the domain of individuals like you and I, and small businesses, is going to migrate to medium sized businesses en-masse as it is going to give these medium-sized businesses access to the latest and greatest technology and economies of scale that these medium-sized businesses will be unable to acquire on their own. Can’t afford to buy that new automation and production system that increases throughput, improves quality, and decreases natural resource consumption? No problem. Form a cooperative with quasi-competitors, build a new factory with the new production technology, and effectively time-share it (for the operating cost). This will put medium-sized businesses on the same playing field as large enterprises and level the playing field in ways that have not yet been thought of. The hippies succeeded and their ideas changed the world — 50 years later.

If you think deeply about it, it sounds about right that it took 50 years for the ideas to take root, evolve, and mature into something that was workable in our society. Why? Because significant shifts in viewpoints take time, and usually generations. For those familiar with Japanese culture, and martial arts in particular, the Japanese believe it takes three “generations” for an art to be perfected**. Somewhere around the time the student of the student of the student of the founder of an art achieves her black belt and begins to teach, the art has reached a point where it has really taken on a life of its own. For old-style arts, where it will often take a student 5 years or more to get their first degree black belt, and then a few more before they get their third and go off to open their own dojo, this will typically take 40 to 60 years as the founder will have to develop the art, teach it, and send his or her students off into the world to begin the cycle of art refinement, transference, and distribution. While not as old as the society of China, the society of Japan is much older than North American society, so it’s no surprise that we’re re-discovering that new ways of living and working often take generations to come to pass. But they do. And this way will have ramifications throughout your supply chain.

And this brings us to the final “future” trend that will have unexpected and possibly profound impacts on your supply management and supply chains in the years to come. A “future” trend that we will … get to tomorrow.

* Don’t give us that look! We warned you day one that having to slog his way through putrid pieces of poppycock really grinds the doctor‘s gears and leaves him with no tolerance for the thick(-headed) and that, as a result, we weren’t pulling any punches in this series. Not one.

** Perfected isn’t quite the right word. The art has reached a point where it has simultaneously been simplified, unified, purified, fully formed, fully embraced, and fully evolved. And even this isn’t quite the right description. It’s a Japanese concept that, like majime, doesn’t entirely translate. It’s domo. Otsukaresama desu for pushing through this entire series with me. We may still be soto with our views, but someone has to lead the way!