Supply-chain software vendors couldn't have been too happy to hear the views of Bruce Richardson, chief research officer of AMR Research Inc., at the firm's annual supply chain executive conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I don't think there is a [packaged] supply chain applications business anymore," Richardson said. "It's a consulting [and service] business." And much of the consulting prowess, he added, is coming from overseas, especially India.
Richardson was musing over the future of smaller software vendors, at a time when giants such as SAP AG and Oracle Corp. appear to be gobbling up everything in sight. But providers of any size must adjust to the new attitude of prospective customers, who are no longer willing to purchase entire suites of software without painstaking economic justification. Even then, they might prefer to make do with existing systems, or products of lesser functionality from their existing enterprise vendors. Customers are demanding that vendors frame their sales pitches in terms of a business case, as opposed to detailing the technological marvels of a new application. "Companies only want to know the business benefits," Richardson said.
Richardson also presented his annual review of major supply chain trends. One was the previously mentioned shift of system expertise to places outside the U.S. Manufacturing isn't the only thing being sent offshore, he said, and cost isn't the only factor. The concept of "knowledge arbitrage" recognizes that "there are a lot of smart people in developing or troubled economies." Expect China to emerge as a major source of business intelligence in the coming decade, as its huge population of young people emerges from thousands of newly built universities.
Manufacturers will come to understand the need to match "appropriate technology" to the target market. India's Tata Consultancy Services is planning to build a car for its home country that is aimed at the five million people who currently ride motorbikes; the price tag will be between $2,000 and $2,200. Others have proposed selling $100 laptops for first-time users in India, China, and other Asian markets. In the U.S., meanwhile, companies will be struggling with the problem of an aging workforce, more than a quarter of whom will reach retirement age by 2010. "This has the potential for a major 'brain drain,' especially in the federal government," Richardson said.
On the technology side, he noted current R&D investments of more than $1bn in "smart dust" and sensor networks, able to sense or measure light, rain, wind, humidity, barometric pressure, soil temperature, humans and weapons, among other things. Applications include traffic and facilities management, with the possible creation of "lights-out" manufacturing or distribution. Then there's nanotechnology, already a $10bn market, aimed at such uses as consumer electronics, long-life batteries and next-generation storage devices.
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