For more than 20 years, Accenture has developed the Technology Vision report, a systematic review of the emerging technology trends that will have the greatest impact on companies, government agencies and other organizations in the coming years. This year, 663 supply chain executives participated in our research—a strong showing that not only illustrates the growing importance of technology to the supply chain, but also gives us unique insights into supply chain executives’ priorities in the coming year.

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Accenture Technology Vision: Supply Chain Perspective

What are the supply chain's 2021 technology priorities?

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Supply chain executives agree that the pace of digital transformation in their organization is accelerating, with the cloud and AI being the top two technologies currently being scaled up. These executives also concur that technology is now strategically important to their businesses, but acknowledge they’re also facing technological changes at an unprecedented speed and scale. In response, a large majority of executives said they plan to invest in training to raise the digital fluency of their employees over the next year, as well as scale up their use of critical ecosystem partners.

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Here are this year’s technology trends as seen through supply chain executives’ eyes.

Trend #1: Stronger Grounds: Architecting a Better Future

A new era of industry competition is dawning – one where companies compete on their architecture.  Supply chain executives have a huge volume of technology options and varieties available to them, which enables them to custom-tailor every layer of their organization’s technology architecture, optimizing the execution of supply chain strategies to a degree never seen before. But building and wielding the most competitive technology stack means thinking about technology differently. Business and technology strategies must become indistinguishable, and enterprises must strive to be technology leaders. For the supply chain, this means stepping up efforts to fully embrace technologies that help infuse resilience, forge stronger customer relationships, and build more responsible operations.

Trend #2: Mirrored World: The Power of Massive, Intelligent, Digital Twins

Growing investments in data, AI, and digital twin technologies are giving rise to a new generation of business and intelligence: the mirrored world. Leading companies are building intelligent digital twins across their supply chain and weaving them together to create living models of whole factories, product lifecycles, value chains, and more. As more of the physical world is represented in the digital space, the burgeoning mirrored world will unlock a cornucopia of new opportunities. Supply chain leaders will be able to bring data and intelligence together at unprecedented scales; ask and answer big-picture questions critical to the business; and reimagine how the supply chain operates, collaborates, and innovates—both within the company and across ecosystem partners.

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Trend #3: I, Technologist: The Democratization of Technology

A shift is underway in technology development, which has big implications for the supply chain workforce. Natural language processing, low-code platforms, robotic process automation, and more are democratizing technology, putting powerful capabilities into the hands of people all across the supply chain. While IT will still handle major implementations and work with the most advanced technologies, the people closest to day-to-day business problems—for example, creating more accurate forecasts or squeezing more efficiencies from manufacturing processes—will be empowered to create technology-driven solutions themselves. With democratized technology, every supply chain employee can be an innovator, optimizing their work, fixing pain points, and keeping the supply chain operations in lockstep with new and changing needs.

Trend #4: Anywhere, Everywhere: Bring Your Own Environment

Opportunities abound for companies ready to rethink what their organization looks like and what it can achieve with a virtualized workforce model. That’s even true for the supply chain, which relies more heavily than many other functions on “in-person” activities and workforces. But simply extending pandemic policies won’t be enough. Leaders must now develop “bring your own environment” (BYOE) strategies, addressing the necessary cultural shifts, the evolving purpose of physical space, and the ability to tap into a truly global talent pool. New sources of skills will be a particular boon for supply chain executives struggling with an aging workforce and an ongoing exodus of vital institutional knowledge.

Trend #5: From Me to We: a Multiparty System’s Path Through Chaos  

The global disruption of COVID-19 ignited a scramble for enterprises to reimagine their supply chain partnerships – and multiparty systems gained newfound attention. The next three years will see rapid change in customer needs, regulation, and more – and companies are learning they are stronger together. They have the opportunity to craft a new path forward using multiparty systems via blockchain, distributed ledger, distributed database, tokenization and a variety of other technologies and capabilities. With multiparty systems, supply chains can gain greater resilience and adaptability; unlock new ways to approach and serve the market; and set new, ecosystem-forward standards for their industries.

The Supply Chain’s New Technology Moment

Our research clearly shows that the acceleration of the supply chain’s digitization post-COVID-19 is well under way and marks a defining moment for supply chain executives. They’re eager to avoid the challenges they experienced in 2020 and are looking to technology to lead the way. With an ever-more digital supply chain, companies can achieve greater relevance to customers, stronger resilience to disruptions, and enhanced responsibility to society and the planet.

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See more Supply Chain & Operations insights.

Kris Timmermans

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Supply Chain & Operations Global Lead

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