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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Supply Chain Needs: Reaching Industry 4.0 & Beyond


We’ve discussed how Maslow’s personal growth paradigm applies to industry leadership, as well as how it translates to a digital transformation strategy and reach those heights. Within the step-by-step journey we’ve mapped, your business may be well on its way to self-actualization, propelled to leadership by strategically leveraging some of the most innovative technologies. But, in the grand scheme of things, what does it all mean, and where are we ultimately headed?

Here we place the industry’s ambitions into context, taking a brief look at how digitization shook the paradigm, where new innovations are taking us, and what it means for the ever-evolving supply chain to be growing toward its own state of ‘actualization.’

Industrial Revolution

Starting in the late 18th century, the first and second industrial revolutions marked a period of great change. Factories, steam power, and new machinery transformed the production process – as well as rural societies in Europe and America which became increasingly urbanized. Thanks to the many innovations of the time, from the spinning jenny to the atmospheric steam engine, goods which were once painstakingly assembled and perfected by numerous hands could now be created en masse – faster, more conveniently, with less labor, at reduced cost, and at greater quantities.

Maslow-supply-chainOur Maslowian climb begins, as always, with a focus on the bare necessities: getting a product or service to customers by whatever means are available. As the tools for doing so become more sophisticated, creating greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and automation, businesses are able to set their sights on loftier goals – ultimately, initiatives aimed at not just selling a product or service but making a difference.

Digital Transformation (Digitizing Data & Descriptive Analytics)

1967 saw the first computerized inventory management and forecasting tool enter the market. Shortly thereafter, businesses began adopting electronics, IT, and industrial automation. Already in 1975, the first real-time WMS was deployed, though it wouldn’t be until the mid ‘80s that the now-ubiquitous term ‘supply chain management’ would make its first appearance, especially as a service.

This era marked a period of large-scale change, of integrating new tools that would boost efficiency and lower operational costs, as well as alter the fundamental frameworks of doing business. The move from manual to digital record keeping granted easy access to historical data, so organizations could effectively analyze and redesign their processes and enjoy unprecedented opportunities for innovative operations planning and optimization.

As companies invest in and integrate these new technologies, they’re increasingly able to run their business like a well-oiled machine, freeing up time and resources for more big-picture thinking. The journey toward actualization relies on questions such as “What else?” “What more?” As the answers to these questions and their successful implementations are what propel progress within the greater world, sparking the next evolutionary stage.

Supply Chain Revolution (Cloud / SaaS)

Maslow-supply-chain-revolutionThe advent of the Internet induced the next big phase of incredible transformation, triggering world-changing technologies like the cloud and software as a service. Beyond their ability to skyrocket efficiency and effectiveness, these offerings helped create the highly interconnected and networked reality we live in today.

In Maslow’s trajectory, ‘relationships’ are a key milestone on the path to actualization. This comes as no surprise, as partnerships fuse diverse talents and minds – and the aggregate of knowledge, resource, and specialization means no one company must do it all. The disparate areas of the supply chain – from warehousing to resource planning to inventory management to e-commerce logistics – can be handled and vastly improved simply by forming the right multi-enterprise business network.

Collaboration-boosting technology, like digital supply chain Control Towers, took off to enhance these multi-party business networks and empowered organizations to explore their partnerships’ full potential. Software that enables dynamic modeling ensures that companies can easily maintain choice and fluidity when choosing partnerships at any given moment within the mercurial market.

Industry 4.0 (Dynamic, Prescriptive & Predictive)

Today, we fall somewhere within this gray area of the fourth industrial revolution, also referred to as Industry 4.0. Though characterizing a current moment is never straightforward, this era is one of ‘smart design.’ Many organizations have met their basic technological needs by digitizing, as well as joining forces with specialized partners to share skills and knowledge and become greater than the sum of their parts. Like simple cells, combining and growing, the next logical step in progress is to build intelligence into these digital trends.

Every week news stories emerge eager to track our progress with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, as well as cognitive computing and predictive software that will make smart use of our overabundant data. In parallel are efforts to eliminate waste and the physical remnants of the supply chain, as with 3D printing applications that slowly replace the need for intermediary storage. Advanced human-machine interfaces and data visualization for real-time training are further aiming to enhance our own capabilities and growth alongside these super-human tools.

But as exciting as this technological progress is, much of it is still driven by customer satisfaction. A short-sighted vision which is already shifting toward the greater good. Because intermixed with this “me, me, me” mentality of “I want what I want when I want it,” is the rise of a greater and humbler purpose.

The Supply Chain of the Future

Maslow-future-supply-chainThe term “Luddite” – which refers to the opposition to technological change – first emerged during the industrial revolution, when workers destroyed factories to protest their poor wages and living conditions. Though we are certainly far from solving all the world’s problems, technology is beginning to align more with humane ideologies, turning its attention toward ethical procurement, full transparency, and green initiatives.

The future of the supply chain is the pinnacle of actualization: that moment when you realize you have everything you need (the most robust tools and access to the most effective technology) so you can actually focus on the things that really matter – like being purpose-driven. While many see Amazon as a major disruptor – and in many ways they are – we are no longer willing to stand for operational excellence at any means necessary. The future, as it is starting to today, will turn a critical eye on any questionable practices.

We are (rightfully) drawing limits to what we will stand for in the name of customer service and satisfaction and considering the implications of our behavior. Whatever technology we employ, the future supply chain will ask that we do so mindfully – by, perhaps, consolidating shipments and ensuring no trucks drive empty, rather than squeezing one more hour out of a promised delivery time.


The best part about the future supply chain is that we have no idea what it is. The future is yet to be written, so it’s in the hands of all who are willing to innovate, take risks, and push the bounds of what is possible.


The supply chain evolution introduces many challenges, but today’s technology makes it easier than ever for businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors and become industry leaders.  Access the Guide


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