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January 14, 2020

The Supply Chain of the 2020s

By Jack Buffington, Assistant Professor of the Practice in Supply Chain Management

As soon as the ball dropped came the predictions in the field of supply chain management over the next ten years. I glossed through these articles and found technology as the driving theme: AI, robots, big data, blockchain. The role of technology in the future is obvious, but supply chain professionals should think bigger picture when considering the future from the past.

Technology has never been the driver of supply chain innovation, but rather the engine. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford’s Model T was a new technology, but the driver for change were the improved processes that led to cheaper cars made more efficiently with higher wages for the worker.

A few decades later, it was Toyota that changed the culture with people and processes around a more efficient manufacturing and supply chain. Today, supply chains are so efficient that it can deliver a package ordered right now in less than a day through innovations in process and technology. Before we consider the future to be dominated by AI and robots, we should consider the roadmap to innovation to be more than just it; we should consider articles such as the 2018 HBR The Death of Supply Chain Management with suspicion.

We as supply chain management professionals also need to focus our attention on much bigger prizes; not just in how to deliver packages faster or making products across a global supply chain, but in solving problems because that’s what we do. In the year 2020, there are no shortages of problems to be solved: climate change, plastic and food waste, a lack of clean water, etc. The decade of 2020 should primarily be about how our supply chains can achieve economic growth and empower an improvement in the natural environment. It is only our field that can solve this major challenge.

In the upcoming decade, supply chain management will either solve these challenges, or continue to perpetuate the problem, and we must rise to the occasion.

To learn more about the Supply Chain Management program offered through the University of Denver, visit

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