Supply Chain Investment Growth in Technologies That Empower Human Workforce

The 11th edition of the MHI Annual Industry Report found increased investment in human-centric, collaborative technologies that empower workers to be more productive and make better decisions.

focus on technology in supply chains

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation have dominated the supply chain technology adoption conversation over the past year. Recognition of their ability to enhance resilience amid unpredictability and improve environmental responsibility has contributed to companies’ increased investment in these innovative solutions. Now, supply chain organizations are focusing on leveraging these technologies in a human-centric, collaborative way that empowers workers to be more productive and make better decisions.

This was the overarching trend uncovered in the 2024 MHI Annual Industry Report, “The Collaborative Supply Chain: Tech-Driven and Human-Centric,” released March 13 during a MODEX keynote panel session. Sponsored by Siemens, MHI again produced the industry report in collaboration with Deloitte. All of MHI’s Annual Industry Reports, including the newest edition, are free to download at

“The focus on technology in supply chains is clear and undeniable,” said John Paxton, CEO of MHI. “The companies who deploy these technologies most successfully, however, are the ones that recognize supply chains are run by people. They prioritize this human-centricity, which is key.”

Top Supply Chain Leaders Share Biggest Challenges, Investment Plans

The findings of the 2024 MHI Annual Industry Report come from a survey of more than 1,700 manufacturing and supply chain leaders. They represent companies both large and small, with 75% reporting annual sales in excess of $50 million, and 17% of $1 billion or more. Executive-level titles of CEO, vice president, general manager, department head, manager or engineer are held by 81% of respondents.

When asked about the supply chain challenges these leaders face, price increases from inflation (53%) were at the top of the list, noted Paxton. “We believe that every organization has faced this in some form. With double-digit producer prices, increasing commodities, increasing transportation, increasing wage pressures—all of these were driving increased costs,” he said. Paxton added that this challenge didn’t appear in the top five challenges in last year’s survey.

Rising costs were followed by:

  • Talent shortage (52%)—Workforce attraction, hiring and retention issues remain a top challenge, having been first or second on the list since the report’s inception.
  • Customer demands (51%)—Meeting buyers’ expectations for ordering options, response times, shipments, customization and pricing continues to present difficulties for supply chains.
  • Insight into customer behavior (50%)—The unpredictability of consumers’ buying intentions and the factors that influence them is something supply chains are still working to better understand.
  • Supply chain disruptions and shortages (50%)—The pandemic may be over and port congestion may have eased, but economic, environmental and geopolitical unpredictability still interfere with operational planning efforts. The recent collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore is another significant example of supply chain disruptions.

In terms of investment plans, 55% of supply chain leaders have increased their supply chain technology and innovation budgets. Further, 88% plan to spend more than $1 million, and 42% have allocated more than $10 million for supply chain investments.

These increases track with prior reports’ findings, said Wanda Johnson, supply chain tech fellow at Deloitte Consulting. Johnson again served as lead researcher of the report.

adoption trends predicted use“Momentum toward increased investment in digital supply chain technologies and innovations was apparent as early as 2019,” she noted. “That was the year businesses truly grasped the transformative potential of solutions like cloud computing, AI, automation and others in streamlining supply chain operations through enhanced visibility and control.”

Although investment plans dipped during the pandemic, the ensuing disruptions proved to many leaders that supply chain resilience was impossible without digital solutions.

“Since 2020 and 2021, supply chain investments have risen significantly,” Johnson continued. “This demonstrates that companies are strategically positioning themselves for success in the long run rather than reacting to nearterm challenges. Organizations recognize that digital technologies give their supply chains a competitive edge by making them more resilient to disruptions, adaptable to shifting market opportunities and able to anticipate future demands.”

Technology Adoption Insights from the 2024 Report

The MHI Annual Industry Report continues to track adoption trends across 11 digital technologies. For 11 years, the survey has asked supply chain leaders to indicate which innovations they expect to adopt in the next five years. The technologies and their anticipated adoption rates are:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)—85%
  • Internet of Things (IoT)—85%
  • Inventory and Network Optimization—85%
  • Robotics and Automation—83%
  • Sensors and Automatic Identification—83%
  • Cloud Computing and Storage—81%
  • 3D Printing—81%
  • Advanced Analytics—78%
  • Blockchain—77%
  • Autonomous Vehicles and Drones—76%
  • Wearable and Mobile Technology—75%

Across the board, businesses are increasingly applying human-centric strategies when using these technologies. Digital solutions are being used to enable decision-making and visibility into data (44%); to improve long-term resiliency and sustainability (42%); to achieve higher efficiency and operational optimization (40%); to empower the human workforce (39%); to manage daily activities (29%); and to enhance personnel safety (22%). The report includes several case study examples of companies applying digital supply chain technologies to better support their employees in a variety of ways.

AI adoption and interest are at historic levels, with 85% of survey respondents reporting plans to incorporate AI technologies within the next five years. AI is already used in numerous supply chain areas, such as demand forecasting, maintenance planning, scenario analysis and optimization and supplier assessments, noted Johnson.

“Additionally, 47% of those surveyed report an increased focus on using AI for decision-making,” she said. “However, supply chains are not relying on AI to make critical decisions. Rather, it’s being used as a tool to help humans make more informed decisions as part of a collaborative supply chain.”

use of artificial intelligence

Generative AI (GenAI) specifically offers tremendous potential to supply chains, continued Johnson.

“GenAI mimics human decision-making, analyzing data and contextualizing it to produce insights that boost productivity and efficiency,” she explained. “It also tends to be much easier for non-technical people to use, understand and access. That accessibility helps to overcome the talent barrier that has limited the deployment of many digital supply chain technologies.”

This form of AI has the potential to improve supply chain resiliency while enhancing worker productivity, satisfaction and retention. That’s because GenAI can be used to rapidly adjust training methods; empower teams to develop new skills; and increase the capabilities and performance of individual workers through collaboration with a suite of AI helpers, added Paxton.

“GenAI can also help leaders make dramatically better, faster and more confident decisions by rapidly gathering and analyzing diverse datasets and then generating advice that is highly relevant and actionable,” he said. “Another innovative application that’s beginning to emerge is the concept of using GenAI to help employees learn as they work instead of taking them away from their jobs for dedicated training.”

In this scenario, GenAI allows workers to ask the questions they need answered and get only the information they need. This reduces time spent searching for information while allowing employees to improve their performance quickly. A section of the report is devoted to best practices in applying GenAI to continuous learning on the job.

“AI’s capabilities offer the potential to create more resilient supply chains and transform the role of human workers in the space—creating a variety of new jobs and improving real-time decision-making and efficiency,” Paxton noted.

Recommended Actions for Supply Chain Leaders

An important function of the MHI Annual Industry Report is the guidance it offers leaders as they work to identify, implement and use digital technologies to transform their supply chains, added Paxton.

“This year’s report offers a roadmap of five key areas for leaders to focus on as they work to create a balance in their technology-driven and human-centric supply chains,” he said.

The recommendations include:

  • Create an enterprise portfolio that classifies and prioritizes technologies and initiatives that support the objective of achieving a tech-driven, human-centric supply chain.
  • Identify realistic use cases that address supply chain challenges and promote efficiencies to benefit the business.
  • Assess the total cost of ownership (TCO) to implement and use each technology in order to build a business case with a clear return on investment (ROI).
  • Identify and mitigate risks associated with deployment of new technologies.
  • Follow a comprehensive approach for ongoing technology transformation, implementation and support.
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