There are several exciting new technologies poised to transform the way U.S.-based small and mid-sized businesses operate. Whether your business is retail apparel, wholesale/distribution or manufacturing, you’ll want to stay abreast of these tech trends so your business can take advantage of them when the time is right.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
We’re not referring to robots in this case but rather the ‘internet of things’ (IoT). Already, IoT-enabled machines have enough intelligence to make warehouse picks based on orders you receive. In manufacturing, IoT data provides front-line managers and technicians with analytics about machine health and status, network and infrastructure issues, and equipment location, enabling proactive management at the local level.
AI is even more prevalent in applications that assist throughout the organization, from marketing and sales to production planning and purchasing. For apparel retailers, these AI applications can predict what you should sell and how, based on consumer trends and purchasing patterns broken down by demographics, brand, category, education levels, and more. Without AI, it’s impossible to manually collect, analyze, and act on such massive amounts of data; with AI, your customers will receive the right offers at the right times. On the back end, you’ll make smarter purchasing decisions and not be left holding low-value stock that never sells.
The Cloud & Edge Computing
Edge computing occurs when you collect and analyze data where it’s generated. You can install edge computing solutions in-house or subscribe to them via a cloud provider and tie them into IoT devices, including smartphones, tablets, sensor-generated input, robotics and automated factory machines. Manufacturers can adjust production operations on-the-fly when they receive automated alerts regarding their operational functions, and distributors can track product and material movement in and between their warehouses. Meanwhile, apparel retailers benefit by collecting point-of-sale data at stores and using that data for analytics, sales, marketing and accounting.
Digital Twins and Immersive User Experiences
Digital twins are more than digital mockups of manufactured products – they’re digital views of any physical object or process that’s projected into the digital world. For example, an immersive application can take a user into a virtual warehouse, allowing the user to gain 360-degree views and understand exactly where objects are stored and how one actually retrieves them. Apparel retailers can visualize how outfits appear in different combinations on store shelves or racks and modify plans to optimize layouts. From a manufacturer’s product support standpoint, IoT data from a product in use can inform the digital view of the product. If the motor loses power in a toy electric train over time, for example, the digital twin of the train can show the decline and prepare product support personnel for the eventual rise in customer service calls.
A blockchain-enabled supply chain is a streamlined supply chain. Or will be a streamlined supply chain. Essential product and shipping data is stored on a decentralized network of individual nodes, all of which communicate via an interoperable interface, regardless of data source or system type. Therefore, the various parties within a supply chain no longer have to wait for centralized approval to perform transactions and complete product handoffs. A blockchain trial project was recently performed in conjunction with MTI and demonstrated up to 90% more efficiency in supply chain processes. That’s a time and money saver for companies in nearly every industry.
We often discuss the ways modern enterprise systems bring people, devices, content, and services together in a single digital environment. As 2018 progresses, your people, customers and supply chain partners will continue their march toward valuable linkages in immersive digital environments. Does this mean you should run out and start installing technologies of the future? Our answer is, as always, that you should only when you can make the proper business case for doing so.
What do you think?
As you keep your pulse on the market and see trends develop, we’d love to hear from you. Do you think these trends are on-target or did we miss the mark? Leave us a comment or feel free to contact us to better understand how your business can leverage technology to optimize your results.