Chief Information and Engineering Officer, UPS
Like other participants in the supply chains that enable commerce, UPS has been continuously adapting the latest technologies to improve everything we do. It began in the 1940s when we added tools that streamlined processes such as forklifts, conveyor belts and ocean-going shipping containers. Thanks to thousands upon thousands of first steps — sometimes bold and often calculating — we’ve enjoyed decades of progress.
The new progress
But the term progress doesn’t begin to describe the pace and possibilities of change today. Progress implies linear improvement that, in turn, is often gradual. There is nothing linear about today.
Think about the possibilities of machines that connect, learn and make decisions. Think about the transparency offered by hundreds of millions of sensors that monitor, calculate and then replace assumptions with actionable data in real time. Think about the transformation as these and scores of other innovations combine into a new age of intuitive supply chains.
In the not-too-distant future, supply chain networks — including the warehouses that serve as critical connection points — will look vastly different than they do today. What’s driving this change is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is creating a digital transformation in how goods are produced, distributed and then delivered to customers. The real winner in all of these changes is the consumer, who will see a greater selection of goods that are no more than a day or two from their reach. The phrase “out of stock” will start to fade from the vocabulary.
The advances in virtual and augmented reality, Bluetooth beacons, RFID and blockchain technologies will enable those of us who are part of the supply chain to track and manage goods as they move from factory to distribution center to consumer. But the innovations don’t stop there.
The breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will not only enable factory and warehouse managers to forecast demand, but also predict everything from whether a customer has goods to be picked up to whether a recipient is available to accept delivery. With AI and machine learning, the possibilities are limitless.
Building an operation that can compete in this brave new world comes down to two simple truths: think big or lose big and move fast or lose ground. At UPS, our willingness to adapt has enabled us to reinvent ourselves many times during our 110-year history — and today, we’re investing heavily in these new technologies to build the Smart Global Logistics Network of the future. I encourage everyone in business to seize on the opportunities created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution because the companies that embrace this new paradigm will be the ones who prosper into the next century as well.