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The past few weeks have seen several different conferences in Supply Chain but the stand out last week was certainly the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference (GSCES) in London.

While this is an annual event known for being a hotbed of best practices sharing, it was especially compelling this year because it illustrated in stark detail just how much supply chains are being disrupted by the digital revolution currently underway in the IT world and what the supply chain industry needs to do to pivot in order to meet new challenges.

Supply Chains are the backbone of free trade and the GSCEC panels, as they usually do, implicitly touched on the health of free trade and globalism, but also touched on the expanding role of artificial intelligence and big data, the uses of IoT in manufacturing, and of course the ability of supply chains to efficiently and optimally manage the trade of goods while reacting to market reality.

One of the more interesting ideas to come out of this conference is the understanding that despite any political turmoil happening around the world, globalism and free trade are not in retreat anywhere. Trade numbers don’t reflect that. The graphs and the projections regarding the value of a global marketplace are all going up and to the right.

Gartner event

What that signifies is that what supply chains need most is plasticity. What they need is the ability to meet demand – at the singular level — while also navigating chaotic environments. They need to expand and contract as the market dictates, while also keeping track of and managing the rapid delivery of individual orders – no small feat.

This year’s conference was interesting in that it was generally agreed that high visibility and elastic, end-to-end, scalable technology that is highly reactive to change – essentially cloud technology – is the most realistic answer to the challenge of successfully conducting modern digital business.

And so there was no shortage of cloud vendors at the conference this year. These vendors showcased all sorts of solutions to the supply chain market – everything from planning to global trade management to logistics to transportation. And every one of these products offered some sort of “intelligence” component as a value added service. This artificial intelligence trend will continue, and I’d say that within the next 5 years supply chains will have taken a huge leap forward in intelligence and in responding to the “amazonification” of the marketplace. In fact, many vendors at the conference teased the next few phases of deep learning and automated problem solving and it looks like heady times await us in managing global trade.

Gartner Supply Chain Executive ConferenceAll of these are positive developments, but there was something else I noticed….

These products are mostly one offs. They solve a single problem. They will require huge investments to keep them integrated and working as a single environment. The fact is, yes – a company could build an end-to-end solution from a patchwork of products, but they would lose overall flexibility. They could solve their micro-challenges, but the macro-challenge of plasticity, of quickly reacting to chaotic environments, would be lost.

It may seem self-serving, but the only cloud solution I saw at the conference that could manage an end-to-end supply chain from a single architecture – from manufacturing through the last mile — was the Oracle Supply Chain Management Cloud.

And we presented our solution on several panels and explained that the major cultural challenge for supply chain’s today is moving from vertical focused functional excellence to end-to-end responsiveness and agility of the business process network starting at the point of purchase.

We hammered the same idea over and over — overarching cloud architecture is the key to truly meeting the demands of the marketplace.

For a look at even more supply chain strategies, check out 6 Strategies for Better Supply Chain Management in the Current Economy  on the SCM Blog.

See you next year.

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