These innovative supply chain trends are taking center stage.

The supply chain industry is constantly evolving. The feverish development of business technology instigates a shift in supply chain trends every few months or so. As the supply chain sector continues to evolve, here is a look at the top 5 supply chain trends recently taking over.

1. Autonomous Delivery Vehicles

The trend of self-driving vehicles has been slowly rising, with cities across the U.S. running tests to augment autonomous vehicle technology. Despite these developments, it will still take some time before self-driving vehicles are used at all as there are safety, legal, and social acceptance issues to overcome.

“Still, that’s no excuse for ignoring the progress being made on a transport solution with the potential to drive greater economic efficiency than any other supply chain technology so far imagined,” wrote Rob O’Byrne of Logistics Bureau.

For example, Anheuser Busch recently succeeded in hauling a full load of finished goods with a driverless truck as an employee monitored from the passenger seat, according to O’Byrne.

Additionally, O’Byrne wrote that a report by DHL suggests that autonomous driving could decrease costs for freight by as much as 40% per kilometer—or 80% per 1.2 miles.

Autonomous vehicles continue proving themselves as plausible methods for curtailing transportation costs. Among the supply chain trends on our list, autonomous vehicles have more challenges to overcome than the rest due to public opinion, but its development will undoubtedly continue to strengthen.

2. Warehouse Automation

Automation has been integrated into distribution centers for some time now but has generally remained within the workflow sector. While this has been of great benefit, the ultimate goal of many companies is to fully automate their warehouses.

Warehouse robotics are slated to change the warehouse work culture even more as they are increasingly being brought to market. Robotic solutions would afford distribution centers the ability to automate their operations without having to make any major structural changes.  

According to O’Byrne, “the real tipping point in the warehouse robotics trend will arrive when technology vendors master the art of true robotic picking, where robots are able to pick orders from conventional racking.”

That’s when warehouse operators will embrace the opportunity of fully switching from manual to mainly automated distribution centers. As far as supply chain trends go, it remains to be seen if this one will arrive in the near future. Nonetheless, the businesses interested in lowering the cost of warehouse labor have been advised to pay close attention to robotics developments.

3. Optimal Cloud-Sourced Security

In addition to automation, technology has produced several supply chain trends, one of them being cloud computing, which is helping warehouse operators optimize how they work by offering them an efficient method to secure data.

The concept of cloudsourcing data security for companies had a slow start, with many companies doubting off-site data security. As of late, the concerns have been fading since cloud providers now offer stronger security. Additionally, many cloud providers—be it private, public, or hybrid cloud providers—comply with major regulatory standards like HIPAA, SOX, FedRAMP, DSS, PCI, and more.

In order to make it easier for companies to adopt cloud technology, regulatory bodies have become increasingly aware of the need to outline security compliance requirements.

In the meantime, it remains the responsibility of the company to secure their own data in the cloud. While there is still some time before regulations are updated on the matter, there are many third-party cloud security providers to help supply chain and logistics companies secure their cloud storage.

4. E-commerce

It is without question that e-commerce has become a ubiquitous platform for shopping in recent years, particularly around the holidays. In the time e-commerce has risen to prominence there have been many ups and downs, including the incident of 2013 where an estimated two million packages were delivered late. Since then, retailers and shippers have continually made improvements in an effort to avoid such incidents from reoccurring.

According to Steve Banker, “as e-commerce has gone from accounting for 9 percent of retail to 30 percent, retailers have continued investing in their omnichannel projects in efforts to more effectively compete in the e-commerce platform.” Additionally, the large increase of traffic in the e-commerce sector increases the need to avoid the late delivery disaster of 2013. This is where large third party logistics companies like DHL have an opportunity to thrive, who for example, is employing the use of newer technology, like drone delivery, to optimize delivery time.

5. Corporate Social Responsibility

Carbon footprint reduction, sustainability, and supply chain transparency have all become so important that their fusion brought on the birth of corporate social responsibility. CSR is a new concept that has taken over the work culture across many sectors and this is largely due to the increased interest from consumers.

“A 2015 CSR study found that more than 80% of participating consumers take CSR into account when deciding what to buy or where to shop,” according to O’Byrne. “Of late though, CSR is being regarded less as a compliance-related necessity, and more as an approach to increase revenue, secure customer and employee retention, and generate brand appeal,” he adds.

Among the supply chain trends on this list, CSR stands out in that it appeals not only to the consumer, but the employee as well. This has been evidenced through those companies that adopted CSR early on and have already begun reaping benefits beyond what they originally expected. It is because of this positive impact that many more companies in the supply chain sector will begin to implement CSR.

The current supply chain trends indicate that both technology and social responsibility have become heavy influencers in the sector. The internet of things has been a part of business for some time now, but the way it has evolved and shifted into other sectors of the supply chain further indicates that the future of this sector is both promising and exciting. Social responsibility will also continue to change the face of the supply chain as more companies adopt the CSR model.