The democratisation of technology

Industry 4.0. Fourth industrial revolution. Digitalization of modern business process and using robots, online technology, Internet of thing etc. stock photo

The benefits of sophisticated supply chain technology no longer sits with big corporates alone. In this interview, Ti Insight’s founder Professor John Manners-Bell and Tech expert Ken Lyon, discuss what it means for the sector and society.

Kirsty Adams (KA): John what do we mean when we talk about supply chain technology being democratised?

John Manners-Bell (JMB): In 2023, supply chain innovation is more evenly distributed around the industry, so even the smallest truck driver is able to access digital platforms and participate in a very efficient way.

And of course, this is bringing huge competitive forces into the industry and challenging some of the big incumbents.

New technologies are able to bring that sort of agility and flexibility to supply chains, which are really required in a world which is volatile, uncertain and complex.

If you prefer, you can listen to the full interview with John and Ken below, on the the latest episode of Ti  Talks Supply Chains.


KA: Was COVID a catalyst for this?

JMB:  Fundamentally, I think we need to point out that many government responses to Covid were really facilitated by the developments that have been made in the logistics industry over the last 20 years.

Without Amazon, without the e-tailing, there would have been no stay at home policies. People wouldn’t have been able to buy goods. Amazon was really as a responsible for the ability for most people to stay at home, work from home, shield at home.

Ken Lyon (KL): Without the wide availability of high speed internet access, being able to access Global Communication Network services, provided by companies like Amazon, just would not have been possible.

So yes, Amazon enabled some form of life to continue as we understand it, but it was the underpinning computer and communications infrastructure which has developed over the last twenty years, which allowed that to take place.

JMB: And I think that’s something we’ve been flagging up in terms of the democratisation of technology as well, Ken, isn’t it?

Because as you pointed out, people have such huge computing power in their pockets now, which gives them accessibility to platforms, logistics platforms, any sort of platform which they’ve never had before, and that’s taken power away from the big corporations and relocated that power to the individual.

KL: If I go back to when I first started working in the industry for a freight forwarder, I was moving a giant oil rig from the UK to somewhere else in the world. It was a phenomenally expensive exercise to undertake at the time, and they had a problem.

They were unable to communicate as it was moving. The people doing the move were constrained by how they could communicate, because it was going to a pretty remote part of the world. The fact that that wouldn’t happen now because you just call someone up on their phone and have a video call, and actually show you with their phone what the problem is through the cameras, and it would cost nothing, is incredible.

40 years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible. Even governments would’ve struggled to acquire that capability. That shows how far things have gone and the rate at which it’s accelerating.

KL: One of the things that we’ve been doing with Ti Insights over the past 10 years is trying to observe a wide angle view of the industry globally and how it operates.

The world’s economy, certainly the industrialised economy, has been a tightly choreographed operation as the world moved from sell-what-we’ve-made to make-what-we-sell 20 odd years ago. Build to order, and then get it as quickly as possible through to the customer. That resulted in supply chains which were phenomenally efficient but had very little resiliency to shocks.

The pandemic has exposed how vulnerable they were, and companies were often quite complacent about the technology platforms they had, and the processes in place to cope with shocks.

Many companies completely underestimated how agile they needed to be. They’d invested heavily in information systems that, of course, had improved their ability to understand what’s going on, but were completely incapable of rapid change.

The world is now understanding what they need. Supply chains that are resilient, responsive, adaptable, flexible, and therefore you require the technology platforms that underpins that to be able to support it.

KA: OK so which technology is most relevant right now Ken?

KL: The technology that I’m really interested in at the moment is sensor technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), and control towers, which are related to visibility and federated trust mechanisms, also known as blockchain.

JMB: …it’s the impact these technologies can have on economies and societies, as well as at a corporate level. Some of these technologies are really transformative, and Ken’s mentioned a few there.

Blockchain, IoT and sensor technology will really transform the way companies work, but also have an impact on societies and government policy, for example. Automation in warehousing is another one… More companies have realised, especially since covid, that a labour force  ̶  as well as being useful  ̶  is also a risk.

And we saw throughout Covid that labour intensive workforces were a huge risk in terms of the impact on businesses and supply. And so automation, whether that’s automation in a port or whether it’s automation in the warehouse, or automation on the factory floor, is really going to be important as we move ahead.

We also need improvement in technologies. We need the cost of that technology to come down and we need wider spread adoption to make that happen. Of course, there are huge impacts that could have on societies, especially if you’re talking in the next 10 or 15 years, with driverless trucks for example.

To hear the full interview with John and Ken, plus the highlights from Ti Insights Global Contract Logistics Report 2022, download the latest episode of the podcast here – Ti Talks Supply Chains – or listen on your podcast platform of choice.