Less than two years ago, CFO columnists were discussing the potential for building a digitally connected supply chain. They recommended holding brainstorming sessions with supply chain vendors. A.T. Kearney was even promoting “digital sprints,” which are “events similar in spirit to hackathons where supply chain, manufacturing, and project managers collaborate intensively.”

Fast forward to the cusp of a new year, and it appears the future—propelled by the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data—is here. As freelancer Yasmin Ghahremani writes in “Sensing Change,” advances in “sensor and battery technologies, wireless networks, and analytics software are helping companies get real-time information about where their goods are, when they’re going to arrive, and what condition they’ll be in.” And that’s only the start to building a digital supply chain network.

So the only question is, what is a CFO to do about it? The question is important, because like other great visions of technological revolution, the automatically optimized supply chain at this point is just an idea. Indeed, in a survey by the trade association for the materials handling, logistics, and supply chain industries, reports Ghahremani, many companies said they are at a loss for how and why to use all of this technology.

What business problems will justify equipping a trucking fleet with connected industrial sensors? What will be the payback period on an investment in technology that tracks assets and inventory in real-time? Will vendor’s tools merely generate gigabytes of data that sit in the cloud untouched?

The questions are compounded by some of the non-technological challenges in the supply chain—most notably, as we discuss in this package, human rights compliance issues and cargo-related risks.

The articles in this special report provide some food for thought. They cover every instance of how an organization might want to explore attacking problems and opportunities in the supply chain—from total reinvention of a supply chain to developing technology pilot programs just to get a taste of the benefits. And advice for handling compliance issues is here also. The signs are clear: for the supply chain industry, the brainstorming stage is over.

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