The next wave of supply chain innovation will be startups to help existing companies win.

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For many years The prevailing view of innovation in the supply chain is centered on innovators: newcomers who enter the industry with new technologies and business models to supplant incumbents.

Less well-known was the next wave often catalyzed by these disruptors: digital proponents seeking to arm incumbents against the intrusions of their new digital competitors.

But in verticals ranging from freight brokers to B2B marketplaces, these opportunities have resurfaced repeatedly since the initial crash. For these industries, digital incentives, not disruptors, represent the next wave of supply chain innovation.

Recurring second wave of innovation

In the freight brokerage space, Convoy and Uber Freight have digitized the traditional process of matching truckers with cargo, allowing them to streamline hours-long emails and phone calls with simple app-based workflows. Now companies like Parade are equipping traditional freight brokers with many of the same tools.

Flexport and Forto made headlines in forwarding companies with the promise of greater transparency and control. They introduced digital business models that improved the customer experience but also accelerated the onslaught of enablers, including Vector.ay as well as Shipamax – the desire to make the old forwarders also more digital.


Image credits: Menlo Ventures

And in the traditional B2B commerce world dominated by trade shows and sales reps, Faire and Ankorstore have fueled growth opportunities. Proton.ay as well as turn on.

Activists take on the unsavory role of helping existing companies stay relevant.

Time and time again we see these call-and-response patterns of disruptive innovation in different categories of supply chains. History repeats itself as proponents follow innovators in every category of supply chain business.

In each case, the threat of displacement forced actors to increase investment in their own digital capabilities, allocating more funds to digital tools to match those of their new competitors. Result? Nothing less than the next generation of innovation, this time led by opportunity creators.

Silent motors drive transformation

Enabling factors typically emerge or accelerate growth after their disruptive predecessors introduced technology that changes verticals and customer expectations. They take on an unglamorous role in helping incumbents stay relevant. Perhaps because of this approach, support factors as a category have been unexpectedly overlooked, especially given their ubiquity in the supply chain landscape and the impressive results they have achieved.

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