In a previous post, SupplyChain – When Will It Stop?, I discussed supply chain and the tremendous growth the field of study is experiencing. I also reviewed some of the skills it takes for young candidates to remain successful throughout their careers. The opposite side to that coin is taking a deep dive into what corporations and universities are doing to stay relevant in supply chain. I recently took part in a networking event with colleagues from my alma mater, Marquette University, and had an interesting conversation with a mentor of mine and the Director for the Center of Supply Chain Management. Dr. Fisher mentioned that he attended the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference in May and was disappointed and shocked to see so few educators in attendance. Topics ranged from identifying innovations to support the supply chain of the future, to exploring the role of smart machines and how to optimize processes, to learning how to leverage data from the Internet of Things (IoT). In short, the conference was aiming to prepare participants for Industry 4.0 and cloud computing.


In typical Dr. Fisher fashion, our conversation moved away from a high-level discussion about supply chain as a whole towards a much more narrowed topic of Industry 4.0. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry but there’s an immense pressure to compete with the best of the best. In his article titled, What a great time to be in Supply Chain Management – if you like pressure, published in May, Dr. Fisher stated, “All of these increased scale, decreased the cost per unit, and improved access to products by the masses through lower prices” in reference to Industrial Revolutions 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. “Now emerges Revolution 4.0 in the first half of the 21st century, also named Smart Automation, Advanced Manufacturing and the Internet of Things.” He then brilliantly linked the responsiveness of Industry 4.0 to the demand-sensing visibility of Supply Chain 4.0. Business clockspeeds that were once measured in weeks and months are being measured in days, hours, minutes, and seconds under Supply Chain 4.0 as everyone is pointing to the likes of Amazon.

The article poses a challenge for supply chain professionals to stay sharp, hone their skills, and gain a wide variety of experience. It then challenges businesses to seek out these motivated individuals aggressively because the demand is projected to far outweigh the supply as this ‘Industrial Revolution’ takes over. It’s difficult not to notice the reaction of enterprises to Supply Chain and Industry 4.0. Same-day delivery and low inventory are contradictory in nature but somehow being combined like never before. What about universities and masters programs? There were over 2,000 professionals who attended the Gartner conference in Phoenix; only 2 of which were educators. Is this a product of not having enough money in the budget, a lack of awareness, or a disinterest in competing with the best and staying relevant? Potentially it’s a combination or includes other components but there’s undoubtedly a gap. Universities should be focusing on Digital Business, Industry 4.0, Supply Chain 4.0, IoTs, cloud computing, and AI (Artificial Intelligence) because that’s where corporations are heading to keep up with instantaneous consumer demand.

Industry 4.0 is here and creating efficiencies in business is essential. “Supply chain people will have to have functional expertise, and credibility, across all elements of the supply chain: sourcing, manufacturing, service operations, inventory management, distribution and logistics, and customer service to execute against click-to-buy,” proclaims Dr. Fisher. It’s without question a great time to be in supply chain management, but that is associated closely with pressure linked to adapting customer demands and businesses everywhere reacting to them. The best companies have been adjusting for years. It’s time for premier academic institutions to follow suit.
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Mike Ebbing

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