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The Home of Supply Chain Innovation is in Georgia

By Ben Harris, Director of Supply Chain Ecosystem Expansion, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Ben Harris, Director of Supply Chain Ecosystem Expansion, Metro Atlanta Chamber

The modern concept of supply chain innovation has one foot in the future and one in the present day. The industry is highly receptive to innovation while also being, out of necessity, cognizant and dependent on the physical, tangible supply chains of companies and organizations that form the lifeblood of regional and international commerce. Successful forays into emerging technologies have included components that touch our physical spaces, and cities will play a vital role in further developing these concepts.

In recent years, metro regions have entered into an arms race of sorts to become transportation technology test beds – metro Atlanta is already making its mark. As a whole, Georgia’s supply chain innovation touches smart city tech, autonomous vehicles, drone development, incubators and more.

"Providing a physical space for testing is beneficial, where organizations can move out of siloed thinking"

Metro Atlanta voters approved Renew Atlanta in 2015, a program authorizing repairs, improvements and upgrades to transportation and municipal facilities projects citywide. In partnership with Georgia Tech, the city created a demonstration project in the form of the North Avenue Smart Corridor. Many factors led to the choice of North Avenue as the site of the development, including its status as an intersection of multiple transit and bike routes and the presence of 18 signalized intersections.

Georgia Tech will begin implementing smart technologies along the key North Avenue artery, intended to cut down on accidents, traffic and more. The project will make quality of life improvements for commuters and residents alike and will have applications for the city as a whole. Scaling and implementing the tech city-wide is an opportunity to bring adaptive signal technology and A.I. to streamline much more than just traffic. This partnership with Georgia Tech is an example of how metro Atlanta has moved away from working in industry silos. Higher education’s impact on supply chain innovation in this regard has been incredibly beneficial.

New thinking around supply chain can also reach commuters more directly—through the very cars they use day to day. Waymo, part of Alphabet and Google, recently announced an Atlanta pilot program to test self-driving trucks. With cargoes destined for Google data centers, these self-driving trucks will begin populating streets, in addition to Waymo’s self-driving minivans. In recent months, the company began mapping the city, creating 3D models of streets, interstates and terrain. Applications for maps and autonomous vehicles are numerous, and Waymo has already demonstrated success, with one truck recently completing a trip from California to Florida.

Prototype Prime is a startup incubator located in Peachtree Corners that will be researching and testing solutions in the autonomous driving space. It will be the new home for the Advanced Vehicle Technology Accelerator, further cementing Atlanta’s reputation as a key test bed for self-driving tech. Again, providing a physical space for testing is beneficial, where organizations can move out of siloed thinking.

The UPS Foundation is another organization taking a holistic look at applying supply chain technology in areas where it can make the most difference. In partnership with the American Red Cross and CyPhy Works, the foundation announced a drone pilot program. The goal of the program is to introduce the use of tethered drones to assess damage after major natural disasters in the U.S. It’s the first time the American Red Cross will test drones in this way—previously thought of in terms of how drones can change supply chains, the UPS Foundation is expanding our conception of the uses outside of traditional thinking. Operators will be able to prioritize the areas that are most in need, potentially saving lives. All of this innovation comes from the metro Atlanta region and Georgia and serves as a fantastic example of the possibilities around public/private partnerships.

Georgia is well-situated when it comes to startups and major corporations all working toward unified solutions. However, another great strength of the state is the presence of innovation centers and incubators that bring all of these powers together. One of the best examples of the proximity of organizations working in concert is TechSquare in Atlanta, home to seven startup accelerators, 17 corporate innovation centers, 10 research labs and more.

A major addition to the collaborative tech ecosystem will be Georgia-Pacific’s Point-A Center for Supply Chain Innovation. Bringing together collaborators from around the globe, Point-A will work to build the supply chain of the future. Point-A will launch in June 2018 in TechSquare with thousands of square-feet for experimentation and lab work.

Delta Air Lines currently has consultants, designers and interns working on the use of chatbots in improving basic operational functions. The impact of this kind of automated service could be wide-ranging – voice recognition software on most modern phones could be used to give update on flights or allow passengers to check in. Delta’s engagement with the next-generation is also noteworthy, through the sponsorship of hackathons and training.

The Advanced Technology Development Center, Georgia Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Institute, Georgia Centers of Innovation, Georgia Research Alliance and Atlanta Tech Village, among countless others, are other strong indicators for why our state can make the claim of being the powerhouse of supply chain innovation. Atlanta Tech Village alone is the fourth largest tech entrepreneurial hub in the nation.

In May, the Metro Atlanta Chamber helped kick off Infrastructure Week—a national series focused on tech, transit and inclusive development. It’s important to view supply chain tech innovations for what they are— initiatives and solutions that have the power to change our quality of life for the better and affect millions of people every day. Many of our speakers across the course of Infrastructure Week emphasized the fact that no one individual or organization has all the answers. When we move past our silos and collaborate, we all benefit when it comes to understanding emerging tech.

Georgia is the #1 state for business and #1 state for distribution and supply chain hubs. Four of Gartner’s top 25 global supply chains are run out of metro Atlanta. We’re at the intersection of the world’s most-traveled airport, the national network of highways and a key port for the East Coast. A recent report from Deloitte ranked metro Atlanta as the number two city for digital supply chain. This reputation for connecting the world’s innovators is something we do best.

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