The supply chain landscape is continually evolving. As we venture further into 2023, supply chains must adapt to these ever-changing dynamics. With new technologies, global disruptions, and shifting customer demands, supply chain managers face numerous challenges.
And although the world has made strides to recover from the tumultuous events of 2020, many companies still grapple with the long-lasting effects of that pivotal year.
In this article, we will explore the top 10 supply chain management challenges for 2023 and beyond, providing insights and strategies for overcoming these obstacles. We will also highlight key areas where businesses must focus their efforts to ensure supply chain success in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
Global Economic Uncertainty & Supply Chain Disruptions
In 2023, supply chain companies must navigate the challenges presented by global economic uncertainty, leading to periodic supply chain disruptions. At present, these challenges arise from these ongoing factors:
- Geopolitical tensions
- Economic fluctuations
- Climate change
- Evolving regulations
While China seems to have moved away from its Zero COVID Policy, freeing up production and shipping streams, unpredictability is still present. Meanwhile, turmoil in Ukraine is here to stay for the time being. Businesses must adapt to keep goods flowing.
Unstable global markets, trade wars, and fluctuating exchange rates can impact the cost of raw materials, transportation, and production. The recent spate of bank failures may spook investors and supply chain leaders.
At the same time, climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events, disrupting supply chains due to damaged infrastructure, transportation delays, and resource scarcity.
Lastly, changing trade policies, import/export restrictions, and environmental regulations can create additional complexities for international supply chains.
These challenges are already significantly impacting supply chains in 2023. To stay ahead, be proactive in addressing these challenges. Monitor economic trends and develop strategies to mitigate the potential negative effects on your operations. Develop contingency plans, diversify your supplier base, and stay informed on global developments to minimize the risks and maintain a positive reputation.
And if you haven’t already, make sure you have mobile barcoding integrated into your inventory handling processes to ensure resilience and agility when it comes time to pivot.
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Operating costs will only continue to rise in the coming years, and managers have to continuously watch how growing technology, fuel, and energy prices affect how and when they ship products. If you’re a manufacturer, you also know that rising input costs add even more pressure onto already razor-thin margins.
Labor remains a consistent cost challenge. Wage increases impact the company’s bottom line. In response, businesses must release employees in an already short-staffed supply chain, raises prices and risk losing customers, or dramatically shift how they do business.
Outsourcing with 3PL
Third-party logistics (3PL) companies have emerged as a popular solution for companies seeking to address supply chain management challenges. 3PL specialized in storing and shipping products. They often have the economies of scale and the right combination of technologies to provide cost-effective solutions to customers. This way, companies can reduce operational expenses and storage space requirements while focusing on their core competencies.
However, adopting a 3PL removes some control and agility from your operation. Hiring a 3PL company is also neither simple nor inexpensive. To avoid a contracting disaster, you must do your due diligence when researching 3PL options.
Many companies elect to use a more cost-efficient mobile inventory solution in-house to improve spend management while also retaining full ownership of their warehouse processes.
Reducing Overhead Costs with Barcode Software
Alternatively, companies can turn to enterprise technologies that pay for themselves while reducing overhead costs. For instance, mobile barcoding solutions act as a force multiplier for your frontline teams, enabling them to do more work in less time and at maximum accuracy. Fewer errors and increased throughput translate directly to lower costs and higher profit margins.
Mobile barcoding can also prevent inventory management mistakes, reducing the rate of returns and lost stock, both of which cost the company money.
In 2023, if you haven’t adopted a mobile inventory solution with built-in barcode scanning, your operation is already lagging behind. Do you know how much time and money is being wasted on outdated material handling procedures? The time to re-evaluate your warehouse processes is now.
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The year 2023 sees an intensification of competition in the supply chain industry, driven by factors such as globalization, technological advancements, and rapidly evolving customer expectations. As a result, companies must adapt and evolve to stay ahead in this competitive environment.
Here are a few strategies you can employ to address the challenges posed by increased competition:
- Embrace innovation. Companies that actively integrate new solutions into their operations can gain a significant competitive edge. But don’t think that cutting-edge AI, IoT, and blockchain are your only options. Look to proven mobile solutions that enhance digital inventory transformation.
- Focus on customer experience. To stand out in a competitive market, companies must prioritize the customer experience. That means delivering perfect orders on time and leveraging appropriate software for communication and barcode labeling
- Strengthen supplier relationships. Developing strong relationships with suppliers can improve supply chain resilience and mitigate risks associated with disruptions or quality issues. Foster relationships of collaboration, transparency, and trust.
- Invest in workforce development. Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce is essential for maintaining a competitive advantage. Companies should invest in training and intuitive mobile tech to cultivate the desired performance of their employees.
- Pursue sustainability and social responsibility. One way to make your brand stand out is to emphasize sustainability and corporate social responsibility, both of which are becoming increasingly important to consumers. Sustainable practices, such as reducing waste and utilizing eco-friendly packaging, appeals to customers and leads to long-term cost savings and operational efficiency.
Shortage of Skilled Workers
With 2020 behind us, it may seem like labor challenges should be behind us as well. Unfortunately, the trend has continued and is unlikely to dissipate in 2023. The shortage of hands hinders a company’s ability to efficiently manage inventory, so adjustments must be made to compensate.
Some of the factors perpetuating the shortage of skilled workers include:
- Aging Workforce: Younger workers have different expectations compared to older generations. Companies that fail to recognize this and adjust accordingly risk a further diminishing labor pool.
- Competition for Talent: Beyond wages and compensation, supply chain companies must consider using mobile technology as a way to lure potential talent. When faced with the option to handle materials by hand or do so with point-and-scan barcode software, most will elect for tech.
- Perception of the Job: For many potential employees, working in the supply chain isn’t considered an attractive option—or an option at all. Companies looking to expand hiring must go the extra mile to make these jobs desirable.
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Building a Great Team
How do you construct a supply chain team that can adapt quickly to an always-changing business environment? The answer: It’s not easy, but also not impossible. Companies need to think about a number of items when building their teams. These include:
- Division of labor.
- Experience in supply chain management.
- A strong understanding of how events in the supply chain affect other departments within the company.
- Cultural expertise, especially since most supply chains are now global.
In addition, seek out advice from other supply chain professionals for finding and training top warehouse workers in 2023 and beyond.
Building a team takes time, and managers shouldn’t rush the process. By hiring the correct employees on the first try, managers can reduce HR costs and decrease mistakes that may hinder talent retention and smooth day-to-day operations.
In an age of limitless information at our fingertips, it’s a sad fact that many warehouses and production plants still use archaic methods for inventory control. From handwritten paper tickets to manual data entry, any operation still relying on such outdated processes is bound to face numerous challenges.
Because of this, technology remains hugely important to supply chain management. According to the RFgen Digital Inventory Report, 59% of companies plan to increase supply chain technology spend in the coming years.
And while there are many technologies on the market today, from control towers to autonomous co-bots, for most companies, a more reasonable, cost-effective technology buying strategy will be most helpful.
Any company that handles inventory or fixed assets can use barcode software, for example. Mobile data collection solutions help streamline supply chain management. Real-time communication with your ERP and other enterprise systems ensures perfect order accuracy and true material visibility at all times.
Unlike manual methods, which are inefficient and prone to costly errors, mobile solutions eliminate errors and bottlenecks with instant automation.
Old barcode solutions that have “aged out” often provide little more efficiency than manual handling. But with modern mobile barcoding solutions, supply chain operations enjoy greater productivity, speed of shipping, and throughput right after being brought online.
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Transparency and Traceability
In 2023, the growing demand for supply chain transparency and traceability presents significant challenges for companies. Already on the rise for many years, consumers and regulators alike are increasingly concerned about the origins of products, ethical sourcing, and environmental impact. To meet these expectations and maintain a competitive edge, businesses must invest in technology solutions that enable end-to-end visibility and traceability in their supply chains.
Both require accurate data on stock levels and material movements. Automating that data capture with barcode software and other advanced data collection methodologies provides the simplest path to achieve visibility and traceability.
- Look for barcode solutions that offer the following capabilities:
- Standard integration for your ERP(s)
- Real-time data access
- Mobile apps for frontline workforce
- Scalability and adaptability of solution
- Low maintenance burden
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Regulatory compliance remains a crucial challenge for supply chain companies in 2023 and beyond. As governments impose stricter regulations to ensure product safety, environmental protection, and ethical sourcing, businesses must adapt their operations to remain compliant and maintain their market position.
For industries with specific regulatory challenges, such as food and beverage or aerospace and defense, additional measures must be taken to ensure compliance. In the event of a government or industry audit, data must be accessible and retrievable with a high degree of accuracy to avoid penalties and litigation.
A surefire way to enhance regulatory compliance is to use software that automates traceability.
Mobile barcoding solutions achieve this by automatically capturing multiple dimensions of data with very high levels of granularity each time an item or pallet as it is scanned. This effectively creates a track-and-trace path with rapid, reliable reporting, accessible at any time.
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Cybersecurity is becoming an ever-more important aspect of supply chain management. It’s also more challenging than ever.
No matter what kind of technology you use to improve your overall operations, you’re saving money in the long run if you invest in the best cybersecurity measures available. Many cloud ERP platforms have built-in security layers you can leverage to safeguard your data.
For mobile inventory operations, select solutions that inherit existing security protocols and have the option to add additional capabilities like SSO or geofencing as well. Mobile barcoding, for instance, can help secure data access, both in transit and while at rest.
Take the time to continuously assess your suppliers as well. Gauge how strong or vulnerable your supply chain is at every point possible, even through outside vendors. If one of your suppliers is in the news because hackers constantly infiltrate its IT infrastructure, it might be time to partner with another company.
Sustainability has become a central concern for businesses and consumers, with companies under increasing pressure to minimize their environmental impact and implement eco-friendly practices throughout their supply chain operations.
Embracing sustainability offers more opportunity in 2023 and beyond, but also presents challenges of its own.
Important areas of supply chain sustainability to examine include:
- Waste reduction: Supply chain managers should focus on minimizing waste, optimizing energy usage, and reducing water consumption in their operations. Utilizing digital inventory solutions helps reduce packaging waste, paper usage, and energy consumption for storage.
- Sustainable sourcing: Prioritize working with suppliers who share a commitment to sustainability, ensuring the ethical and environmentally friendly sourcing of raw materials. This approach helps reduce your environmental footprint while mitigating the risk of reputational damage.
- Green transportation: Adopting eco-friendly transportation methods, such as electric vehicles, and optimizing delivery routes to reduce fuel consumption can significantly decrease a company’s carbon emissions. Additionally, businesses can explore options for intermodal transportation to further improve their sustainability profile.
- Circular economy: Companies can embrace the principles of the circular economy by designing products for longevity, facilitating repair and reuse, and recycling materials at the end of a product’s life cycle. This approach helps minimize waste and conserve valuable resources.
By integrating sustainability into their supply chain management strategies, companies can not only meet the growing expectations of customers, regulators, and stakeholders but also drive long-term success in an increasingly competitive market.
Climate change poses increasingly significant challenges for supply chain management. 2023 may be a difficult year, but the years to come will likely prove more difficult yet. Businesses will have to grapple with the consequences of extreme weather events, resource scarcity, and shifting regulations.
To overcome these challenges and build resilience in their supply chains, companies must adopt proactive strategies and innovative solutions:
- Risk assessment and mitigation: Conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential climate-related vulnerabilities in their supply chains, such as supplier locations prone to natural disasters. By developing comprehensive mitigation plans, businesses can better prepare for and respond to disruptions caused by climate change.
- Diversifying suppliers and transportation routes: Doing this will minimize the impact of climate-related disruptions. By maintaining a flexible supply chain network, businesses can quickly adapt to unforeseen events and maintain continuity.
- Carbon footprint reduction: Reducing carbon footprint and optimizing energy consumption will become more important as time goes on. Adopting renewable energy sources and implementing eco-friendly transportation methods not only contribute to climate change mitigation but can also result in cost savings and improved brand reputation.
- Collaborative action: Supply chain stakeholders can work together to develop industry-wide initiatives and best practices for addressing climate change challenges. Collaborative action, such as sharing resources and knowledge, can help companies build more resilient and sustainable supply chains.
The Future of Supply Chain Management Challenges
While the top ten challenges facing supply chain management may not be entirely new, they remain salient and persistent in 2023 and beyond. The lingering impact of 2020 has significantly contributed to these challenges, and they require immediate attention.
Addressing these challenges with effective supply chain strategies will be vital to continuing success amid tense competition. Don’t overlook cost-efficient technologies like mobile barcoding and data collection as a means to alleviate cost pressures and unlock new tiers of performance and growth.
With a robust combination of strategy and technology in your supply chain toolbelt, your operations can deliver optimal customer service and leave the competition behind.