The Signal January 14, 2022

Supply Chain Predictions ’22

Read my Top-7 predictions for where and how the spotlight on supply chain and operations intensifies, from a re-examination of workplace safety to an explosion in career interest from young professionals.

Kevin O'Marah Avatar
Kevin O'Marah

Déjà vu, all over again . . . didn't we already do this? 

2022 is another new year inviting optimism, just like Jan ‘21, but with an overhang of doubt that may never be completely gone. That said, Jan ‘22 is a pivotal time for supply chain people whose credibility is in special focus now. Holiday eating, drinking, and giving went fairly smoothly this year, all things considered, and the supply chain profession is ready to pop with excitement and change going forward.

Here are some predictions that should come in handy as the work heats up.

Prediction #1: COVID Makes Safety Cool

Operations people think more about safety than most folks in marketing or finance who sometimes secretly roll their eyes when we start meetings with a “safety moment”. 2022 will be the year we all get on the same page. “Essential workers” including delivery drivers and meat packers, but most spectacularly, nurses and doctors, showed that coping with hazardous conditions, while possible, should not be a matter of personal heroics. Expect more regulation and oversight on working conditions everywhere as fairness, respect and risk mitigation combine to keep safety top of mind. Social media will make sure we don't forget. 

Prediction #2: China Divorce

This is obvious, but it will be faster than we think. China trade has been in crisis since Trump, and with the fragmentation and isolation left behind by COVID, there's a long list of reasons to split more sharply including rivalry over tech leadership, imbalance, instability and invisibility in Pacific shipping, and serious tensions in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Reshoring (1.7B hits on Google) has been a thing since at least 2008. Maybe 2022 is when its speeds way up.

Prediction #3: Unions Get Smart

Labor shortages last year gave U.S. unions more power and possibility than they've seen in 40 years. With new footholds at Amazon and Starbucks plus wins in some high-profile strikes, organized labor is ready to push for more. Given automation's continued improvement though, I'm betting a new wave of union leaders will start to focus more on skills investment and better market-making for jobs than just wages and benefits. Embrace the opportunity and with any luck, the union rep you're talking to is more practical than political.

Prediction #4: Autonomous Wins

It's long been a stop-start relationship with self-driving vehicles but this year we'll see it boom. There are dozens of AV business bets in flight right now, and at the exact moment we're stressing about driver shortages. The answer will never be total elimination of people, so much as autopilot for the routine stuff freeing up human brains for problem solving on busy streets and personalized customer service at drop. Invest in sales training for logistics people to take advantage of it.

Prediction #5: Inflation Fizzles

This is not about solving the supply bottlenecks, which we largely will. It is about shifting revenue away from physical goods and toward services and digital goods – both of which are seeing significantly lower inflation now. Once COVID goes endemic and stimulus payments stop, consumers will shop differently.  “Lying down”, the Great Resignation and new attitudes about the purpose of life will speed the shift in demand away from stuff and toward ideas, experiences, and the arts. NFT anyone?

Prediction #6: Animal Rights Explodes

Meat is murder! Yeah, but I still want a burger...Humans are omnivores and eating things with faces is part of the deal but treating animals with cruelty is not. Whether its anxiety about carbon, or revulsion over factory farms, the intersection of social media empowering activist consumers and a pandemic-fed passion for animals as companions, expect flare ups this year over animal rights. Bonus long range prediction: We'll learn to “speak” to animals by 2040.

Prediction #7: Supply Chain Craze Among Teens

OK, “craze” may be too strong, but I do expect surges in public awareness of supply chain to cross with youthful passions about climate change and ESG to draw some high schoolers into the game. It's addictive once you start asking where things come from. Plus, it's easier to get entry-level work experience in supply chain than in medicine, law, or finance even without a college degree. It's not just a job, it's an adventure, and one where young people can make a difference.

Happy New Year :)

Chart depicting Google search interest over time for the query: "Supply Chain" from 2020 till 2021. Source: Google Trends, December 2021.

Critical Reading

Bringing Blockchain, IoT, and Analytics to Supply Chains

Commentary: As we dive into 2022, there are three technologies that are essential to explore, understand and employ to improve the resiliency and sustainability of supply chains – Blockchain, IoT and analytics.
#supplychainsolutions #blockchain #iot #analytics

Board Diversity Increased in 2021. Some Ask What Took So Long.

Commentary: Boards, which inform and advise companies' biggest decisions, have crucial power in American business and society. It's essential that we continue to pull from a talent pool that has been overlooked for far too long – nonwhite people and women. 
#corporate #diversity #change

Can Paper Replace Plastic? A Packaging Giant Is Betting It Can

Commentary: Despite complications and costs, companies are demonstrating their commitment to a green future through innovative supply chain solutions. 
#supplychain #innovation #esg