Asimov's 2014 World Fair: Supply chain management implications


With the year having already crossed the halfway point, it's a good time to start thinking about the road ahead and carve a bold path into next year. Of course, some of the items described in Isaac Asimov's version of 2014 have already been around for more than a decade - wireless electronics are in abundance and there's more than a few smart cars roaming the streets these days. It may still be a while until everyone is driving hover cars, but it goes to show that the future sometimes gets here sooner than expected.

Asimov and the supply chain of 2014
6796957216 9456af55f9 resized 600Although Asimov's predictions were light on supply chain management practices, one quote from his 1964 description of the 2014 World Fair is strikingly relevant to one of the prominent risks organizations face today:

"Although technology will still keep up with population through 2014, it will be only through a supreme effort and with but partial success," he wrote. "Not all the world's population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world. They will have moved backward, relatively."

This is a particularly astute observation to keep in mind when looking at the supply chain. An organization can have the most powerful software and the best practices in the world but experience supply chain failure because the its business partners have not achieved the same level of sophistication. There is already a significant gap between supply chain leaders and other companies, and if Asimov is to be believed, that gap will only widen in the years to come. While this risk can be mitigated, it will require a focus on supply chain visibility and an initiative to share best practices knowledge among suppliers.

When looking specifically at the top supply chain risk trends that are likely to take hold in the next year, avoiding Asimov's 2014 technology gap is an even greater issue. For example, Spend Matters contributor Jason Busch identified several critical elements to minimizing risk in 2014, including:

  • The ability to forecast revenue and demand to align procurement strategies
  • Expansion into new and more complex service categories
  • Adoption of more sophisticated partner onboarding and file transfer solutions
  • Closer collaboration with IT service providers
  • Use of analytics tools that are designed to facilitate compliance

As these items suggest, the technological capabilities that govern supply chain processes will likely play an even greater role in reducing risk through an organization's network of partners. It is important to keep in mind that the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In other words, where IT gaps exist, there are also significant chances for disruption.

Perhaps not all of Asimov's predictions have come entirely to fruition, but we've gotten pretty close in a lot of areas. We may not be having regular phone conversations between Earth and the moon, but we do have videoconferences with those on space stations. The trick to successfully moving forward into 2014 will be to keep pushing the positive technological advancements in communication and collaboration while reducing the number of risk-creating factors that are bound to emerge.

Asimov's predictions were for 2014 - but what about beyond that? Learn what IBM's visions for SCM's future in our complimentary eBook below: