Editorial: Innovation needed for supply chain relief

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of repairing damaged supply chain links, B.C. is on the ball; when it comes to reimagining future supply chain efficiencies, it and the rest of the country have yet to pick up the ball.

The province’s restoration of severed transportation arteries in the wake of last November’s floods has been commendable. B.C. is nothing if not an able blue-collar builder and fixer.

But retooling 21st century supply chains is going to take far more than moving rocks and pouring concrete.

The ongoing congestion on the North American side of transpacific trade lanes has as much to do with delayed technological integration as it does with pandemic disruptions, labour shortages and clogged road networks.

One of the challenges for Canada in accelerating that integration is its innovation vision deficit. A survey of Canadian, U.S. and European companies included in a mid-December Conference Board of Canada briefing illustrates that.

Designing Supply Chains for a Post-Pandemic Era found that artificial intelligence/machine (AI) learning and big data analytics were among the top technology developments influencing supply chain design and upgrades for the companies surveyed.

But a key differentiator in survey responses between Canadian and non-Canadian respondents was the percentage of companies that don’t think AI and other technologies will affect future supply chain design.

Approximately 26% of Canadian companies surveyed don’t expect technology to have an impact on the design of updated supply chains, compared with only 11% of non-Canadian companies that share that view.

That speaks to a traditional Canadian business mindset of following rather than leading when it comes to ambition and innovation. Both are cornerstones of economic success in the 21st century. Canadian governments and businesses need to decide how they are going to cultivate those attributes in their jurisdictions and their corporate cultures so that second-tier achievements are no longer expected or accepted.