November 2019 | Commentary | Checking In

The Death of Your Profession?

Tags: Logistics I.T., Supply Chain Management, Technology , Supply Chain

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

In a few short years you won't be employed. That's right, if you work in the supply chain management field, and have a decade or so until you retire, it's time to dust off your resume and consider other career paths. That's according to commentary authors Allan Lyall, Pierre Mercier, and Stefan Gstettner in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article titled "The Death of Supply Chain Management" (bit.ly/SCM_death).

"The trend is clear: Technology is replacing people in supply chain management—and doing a better job," the authors write. "It's not hard to imagine a future in which automated processes, data governance, advanced analytics, sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence, and a continual learning loop will minimize the need for humans. But when planning, purchasing, manufacturing, order fulfillment, and logistics are largely automated, what's left for supply chain professionals?"

That's their prediction, codified here: "Within 5-10 years, the supply chain function may be obsolete, replaced by a smoothly running, self-regulating utility that optimally manages end-to-end workflows and requires very little human intervention."

OK humans, stand aside! You buyin' that? It reminds me of a Warren Bennis quote that was popular in the early 1990s: "The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."

The trouble with global generalizations is that they are part true and part not. It has been 30 years since I heard Bennis' quote and that future is not yet here. While automation has cut workers by eliminating tasks in some operations, unrelated trends have actually increased the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Also cobotting, where machine and workers meld tasks to increase productivity, has not replaced humans. As the robot manufacturers say, the machines free up time for workers to perform other important and non-automatable tasks.

So will the supply chain function be obsolete in 5 to 10 years, as Harvard Business Review predicts? Nope, not gonna happen. A whole host of frictions will slow down that timeline, frictions that have nothing to do with the technology and the programming wizardry (in short supply now and given educational requirements not likely to increase in the future) needed to meet that prognosticated deadline. You may need a career change in 50 years, but for now your job is safe.

Have the reports of the death of supply chain management been greatly exaggerated? What's your view? Let us know: editorial@inboundlogistics.com.






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