Don't Get Stung by Supply Chain 4.0 Buzz

Don't Get Stung by Supply Chain 4.0 Buzz

Agility.  Resilience. Responsiveness. Adaptability.  Elasticity.  Do you know the difference? 

It doesn’t matter, right?  We both understand it has something to do with flexibility, and that’s what a digital supply chain gives us.  You know, a digitally transformed supply chain.  A digitized one.  Digitalized. Digitization.  No need to nitpick, and besides, we’re busy, and there are new buzzwords to learn.


The Good and Bad of Supply Chain Buzzwords


Everything has a good side and a bad side, including buzzwords.  

These important-sounding words are great for streamlining communication, making it easy to explain complex, novel ideas from existing ones.  Try presenting routing optimization or Logistics 4.0 without using either of those handy phrases.  Thanks to buzzwords, we can get to the point quickly, allowing ideas to advance further and faster along with technological progress. 

Now for the bad.  Buzzwords get a bad rap for good reasons.  They’re overused, misused, and vainly wielded for effect, often with cringy irrelevance.  They can distract and obfuscate, wasting precious resources and shorting a supply chain of its full potential.  Ouch!  There’s the stinger.


Good Buzz and Bad Buzz


Buzzwords generate good buzz and bad buzz.  The good kind is like honey, attracting us with innovative ideas that might be exactly what we’ve been hoping for.  So, how does a word go from a good buzz to bad?  

The problem isn’t the buzzwords, but what we do to them when we create buzz.  As the hive of influencers coin new words and the media broadcasts them, we find new ways to use them for our situations.  

Each of us comprehends language with a bias, incorporating new ideas into our own context, and sometimes it results in different understandings and applications.  That’s not always bad - it can lead to additional insights, but it’s also where the bad buzz can begin.  

After many iterations, interpretations can obscure the original meaning and crowd the market with competing variations for the same word.  Marketers may exacerbate the problem by rebranding established products with these buzzwords when there’s no actual innovation involved.  As things get buzzier, the definitions get fuzzier, and here’s where a supply chain can get stung if we’re not careful.

Sting Number One:  Fuzzy Definitions

Words matter and they have consequences for a supply chain.  Here’s a foundational idea I was thinking about: supply chains are built from words.   Think about it.  Everything in a supply chain began with ideas that had to be communicated clearly before coming to fruition: software processes, machinery, transportation, energy transmission, business contracts, currency, etc.  

Supply chains are precision processes requiring precise definitions.  Poorly defined objectives and specifications are a leading cause of software project failures.   Assumptions don’t compute in software engineering or logistics.  For example, plans to implement transportation optimization for Logistics 4.0 would need precise requirements for Logistics 4.0 and transportation optimization.   If either of these is left undefined, the plan is unlikely to succeed. 

I told the story about Jack and Jill in a previous post.   If team members agree on words but have different definitions in mind, there will be problems.  Take nothing for granted and describe what you expect to happen.   Each party must know who, what, when, where, why, and how expectations will be met. 

Unfamiliarity with new words understandably creates less certainty about a word’s meaning, leading to assumptions.  We might assume others using the word have a better grasp, when in fact, they may be repeating someone else’s notions.  Rather than speculate on the meaning or resort to assumption, ask for specifics.  

Sting Number Two:  Hype

iStock-gorodenkoff-890155086The nature of buzz is hype, and it’s common for software solutions to fall short of this, at least in their present state.   Buzz is often about the future, and this is also true of most SCM and logistics software.   Software as a work-in-progress is not a problem if a vendor and customer agree on functional specifications and their delivery date.  

If you’re expecting capabilities based on your understanding of a buzzword, like machine-learning, for example, be sure you know precisely how a product works before signing on the dotted line.  Multiple vendors offer the same buzzword capabilities, but a side-by-side comparison might lead you to conclude you’ve just seen entirely unrelated features.    

Sting Number Three:  Supply Chain 4.0

Is the holy grail of supply chains hiding a big stinger?  Precision is the big idea behind Supply Chain 4.0, but even this buzzword is rife with imprecision.   There’s no industry standard or consensus on the buzzwords that describe Supply Chain 4.0.  It's our job to figure it out and make it happen.   No problem, we’ll just consult the Supply Chain 4.0 specifications.  Oh, scratch that.   Supply Chain 4.0 doesn’t have any specifications.


Let’s not hold our breath expecting AI and machine learning to define Supply Chain 4.0 and the buzzwords - that’s our job.     In the meantime, we’ll build digital supply chains according to what we think the buzzwords mean and assume others in the chain are in agreement.   It doesn’t matter, right? Besides, we’re all too busy to sort this out now.

Download our guide on Logistics 4.0 by clicking on the image below.