Talking Procurement

We should be making time for disruptive technologies, urges IMPA COO & Secretary General Stephen Alexander

As technology’s tidal surge of disruption floods into every market place, business is awash with new phenomena that threaten to drown the old ways of working. Amazon, the erstwhile online giant, has triggered one such phenomena, disrupting the retail marketplace and causing a seismic shift that has seen consumers abandon high streets in favour of apps and browsers. 

The resulting consumer climate is one of high expectation and increasing demand. You can order an item at the swipe of a finger to be delivered within 24 hours. Amazon has turned consumers into kings of convenience and masters of the free market. Its effect has changed the game. 

Those of us in the supply chain have watched with awe as one sector has been transformed in just under a decade. And yet, that awe is offset by trepidation and mild fear. Is the maritime supply chain next? 

It was to that end that Transas CEO Frank Coles gave a valiant call to arms in the Maritime Executive. Exploring what he saw as the inevitability of disruption in our industry, he said that shipping was in denial and needed to react if it was to stay relevant. 

“The market for maritime assets, aka ships, has run out of steam,” he said. “Recurring stints of oversupply reveal an 

The resulting consumer climate is one of high expectation and increasing demand. You can order an item at the swipe of a finger to be delivered within 24 hours. Amazon has turned consumers into kings of convenience and masters 

industry that is unable to manage itself, unable to modernise, or make real progress despite the technological revolution happening around it. So, it is going to be disrupted. 

“The business model has to change and it will be painful. Innovation can be described as the improvement that occurs from within. Disruption, on the other hand, is change imposed from outside. The former is incremental, while the latter rips up the present model and starts again from scratch.” 

“By making time for disruption we are making time for that growth and for innovation”

Coles also drew attention to Amazon and the ‘missile’ that it has aimed at the supply chain with its Global Supply Chain by Amazon blueprint. The initiative will apparently revolutionise and automate the entire international supply chain, and could take land and sea-based operators out of the game – at least in their current guise. 

As foreboding as Coles’ words are, they are prescient if other voices in the industry are anything to go by. Speaking recently, IMPA Chair & CEO Susan Koefoed said that the hype around digital disruption has weight: “It is happening but I do not see it happening overnight, however, over a period of 2-10 years a number of new possibilities may come into play, such as machine intelligence.” Procurement and Supply Chain Manager at Thome Group of Companies, Ryan Dalgado, who foresees significant changes in the general shipping model, echoed her words. “It appears to be only a matter of time before the traditional ship chandler will be replaced by ‘Amazon’ type portals, at least at key locations.” 

Technology will inevitably disrupt our industry – and the attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ will pervade in some quarters – but if history has taught us anything, it is that those who stand still get left behind. 

So, should we be fearful? Or should we embrace the inevitable? The answers have more to do with change than technology itself. With change inevitably comes unknown, unchartered territory. For an industry steeped in tradition and with strong values, change is difficult. But it need not be seen as a negative force, because change also brings opportunities for growth and innovation. 

By making time for disruption we are making time for that growth and for innovation. We are counting ourselves in for the next iteration of our industry and for a bold and bright future that brings fresh perspectives to the world of supply. 

Stephen Alexander