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As forecasters, we rely on data to look at the past and use models to provide insight into the future – this is not one of those times. The following, rather, is what we refer to in the planning field as a qualitative forecast – unscientific and with more than a pinch of gut feel and intuition. Here I project the trends for 2020 in demand planning, S&OP and related fields.

Robots Will Finally Come For Our Jobs

2020 just may be the year a robot or AI comes for your job – or at least part of it. Many think of automation as a robot on a manufacturing line that mechanizes a repetitive task and, in the process, makes many blue collar roles obsolete. With AI we are now seeing automation coming into white collar roles whereby technology is professional activities/role such as interpreting and translating, processing transactions, dealing with data, replying to emails and even parts of the legal profession.

Automation will make our jobs better by removing the boring stuff and giving us more time to focus on value-added activities.

Repetitive tasks are not the preserve of the low paid worker – think of all the repetitive tasks that you do in planning. Up to 45% of the activities we do can be automated. The good news is there is still 55% of our jobs that a robot can’t do, so us planners being rendered completely useless may have to wait another decade. On a serious note, automation and machine learning will make our jobs better – by removing the boring stuff and giving us more time to focus on value-added activities. We, by using creativity to add value rather than performing routine processes to add value, become more valuable to our organizations in the process.

While AI and automation are not new for 2020, they will see massive growth this year. With the shrinking workforce and the pressure companies face to protect their bottom line, automation will be a key initiative in the years to come and you will see more companies adopting it.

We Will  Say Goodbye To Cloud Computing & Say Hello To Edge Computing

One of the lesser talked about technologies will take data collection and processing and take it away from your computer and closer to the source. With the IoT becoming more widespread and the speed of data gathering and processing becoming more important, edge computing will gain traction. Edge computing is designed to help solve some of the problems associated with handling Big Data and bypass the latency caused by cloud computing. Edge computing can be used to process time-sensitive data in remote locations with limited or no connectivity to a centralized location.

Planning technology will see a revolution – becoming more open source and decentralized.

So, if you have not yet made the connection, this not only means it can increase the use of IoT and new data sources, but further enables predictive analytics. We will not only cut ties to our personal computer but also cut ties to legacy ERP systems and planning suites that require all processing to be done inside their systems. Planning technology, especially surrounding predictive analytics and forecasting, will see a revolution – becoming more open source and decentralized.

With that in mind, this year I also see software providers in this space changing their business models and rethinking what technology they’re offering and how it’ll be made available.

Data Analytics Will Make Roles Converge

With the growth of technology and the increased speed of business, many roles will become blurred in the year (or years) to come. Marketing teams will be synonymous with digital teams, where marketers are just as comfortable thinking about data as they are customers. Data scientists will become more like demand planners and demand planners will learn to be more like data scientists. And all areas of a business will begin to consume more data and be more analytically driven, thereby making it harder to distinguish roles.

While some say that data is the “new oil”, the real-life blood of a business is insights.

While some say that data is the “new oil”, the real-life blood of a business is insights. Organizations need to be flatter in order to process information faster unless they want to risk nimble competitors seizing business opportunities. Flatter can mean the centralizing or amalgamating of roles. Companies will see business forecasting and planning roles grow, or augment other roles such as finance, marketing and other functions to help enable better insights.

We Will Finally Clean Up Our Data Swamps

As we ring in a new year, the issue of data quality and quantity is more important than ever. As we try to bring in all sorts of new data from different sources, our data lakes are starting to look more like data swamps. This has been a recurring issue for years, but I finally have hope that we can start to solve the problems of data integrity, data governance, data security, and just plain messy data.

As organizations need more data for planning, I predict the trends will turn from data collection to data analytics as the majority of companies quickly realize that their predictive analytics adoption must be equally met with solid efforts on a next generation data environment as well. Business Intelligence software is making a revival right now, offering more advanced data analytics capabilities than ever before, along with renewed data visualization techniques. Traditional systems are understanding the needs as well, and we are seeing more of a focus on the inputs to help create better outputs. We will also see it on the people side with designated roles like data architects or data interpreters – these people will become increasingly important to help drive better data and information.

2020 Will Be The Year Of Predictive Analytics

Those customer reviews and comments on websites, all of that social media data, metadata on consumers and macro data on markets – all of this is bound to be useful for something. There is an arms race to leverage this new data and use Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to glean better insights. The sheer volume and complexity of today’s data are challenging enough, but top organizations in 2020 and the years to come will need to turn this data into useful insights quicker to support faster and better decision making. Therein lies the competitive advantage of 2020 and beyond. To this end, demand planning and predictive analytics will become the top priority and main investment for forward-thinking companies in 2020, and for companies as a whole over the next few years.

Looking At Historical Shipments Will Not Be Enough

2020 just may be the beginning of the predictive analytics revolution for demand planners, where predictive analytics becomes more of central focus from a people, process and technology perspective. In today’s business environment, changes in the marketplace are swift, sudden, and may not follow the historical pattern. Just looking at historic shipments will no longer be enough in the next decade and you need and tell the whole picture. Instead planners will begin to look even more at patterns of consumer behaviors and other external attributes to not only predict the sale, but understand why it was purchased it in the first place.