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Building the Matrix: Do you want in?

16 October 2017

“We are building the Matrix,” the man declared from the stage. No, this is not the opening line from some ropey novel, but a speech from the closing keynote at Gartner’s Supply Chain Conference in London.

The man was Gartner’s Kevin O’Marah and he looks a wee bit like George Clooney. His presentation took in brain-machine interfaces, smart dust, 4D printing, Artificial Intelligence and teleportation. Ok, I made one of those up – but can you guess which one? *

One thing was loud and clear from the presentation and from the conference in general. The pace of change is breathless and the future is here, right now. You may ask, what has that got to do with me? With the sheafs of paper covering my desk, a green screen monitor, a bumpy floor in the warehouse, dented pallet racks, and smoky old forklifts.

In answer to that question, one speaker from PepsiCo quoted sci-fi author William Gibson – “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

To continue the sci-fi movie theme, while Blade Runner asks ‘do androids dream of electric sheep?’ – real futurologists are asking do truckers dream of caring for the elderly? Lynda Gratton says the new digital industrial revolution will threaten jobs and change the tasks demanded of people. She predicts that semi-skilled men in particular could see a big shift in roles away from traditional masculine jobs such as driving trucks (or forklifts) to jobs that are focused on softer and traditionally more feminine skills such as as caring for the elderly.

But I suppose one does not negate the other. It is possible to be a caring, giving man who can help take care of vulnerable people, and drive a forklift too. Equally, driving a forklift or a lorry doesn’t make a woman less feminine or caring.

The pace of change is creating an understandable anxiety. In my opinion, a lot of these things won’t add up to much, but some will reach serious tipping points where they can no longer be reasonably ignored. Just look at how IT and the internet have revamped the way businesses operate over the last few decades. As for which trend will have real momentum, don’t look at me, I’m just a guy with a pen and notepad in the audience. But no, smart dust, smart dust is the future (not be be confused with that crackly sweet you dumped in your mouth as a kid) :-).

* Of course it’s teleportation, can get nowt past you!

Stored energy

One way to look at an electric forklift fleet in a distribution centre is as a repository of stored energy. It is unusual to look at it like that, however Fortis Battery Care, due to become Juice Stored Energy next year, see this very clearly and envisage forklifts and forklift battery care being a key part of a facility’s overall energy management plan – not just in terms of trying to save money by running forklifts efficiently, but also by using the stored energy for other functions on-site as and when appropriate. This is said to help drive greater energy independence. These could be exciting times for the warehouse manager who may not be aware of the energy potential of the trucks he walks past every day.