For years, the The prevailing narrative for supply chain innovation has focused on the disruptors: new entrants entering the industry with new technologies and business models to displace incumbents.
Less heralded is the next wave that these disruptors often catalyze: digital enablers seeking to arm incumbents against the incursions of their new digital rivals.
But in verticals ranging from freight brokerage to B2B marketplaces, these enablers have repeatedly emerged after an initial disruption. For these industries, digital enablers, rather than disruptors, are the next wave of supply chain innovation.
The returning second wave of innovation
In freight brokerage, Convoy and Uber Freight have digitized the traditional process of matching truck drivers with loads, streamlining hours of emails and phone calls with simple app-based workflows. Now companies like Parade equip traditional freight brokers with many of the same tools.
Flexport and Forto made headlines in the freight forwarding business by promising greater transparency and control. They introduced digital business models that enhanced the customer experience, but also accelerated a flow of enablers — including Vector.ai and Shipamax — that also wanted to make legacy freight forwarders more digital.
And in the traditional world of B2B commerce, which is dominated by exchanges and merchants, Faire and Ankorstore have contributed to the emergence of the enablers Proton.ai and Enable.
Enablers take on the non-glamorous role of helping incumbents stay relevant.
Time and again we see these call and response patterns of disruptive innovation across supply chain categories. The story repeats itself as enablers follow disruptors in every category of supply chain activity.
In both cases, the threat of displacement has prompted incumbents to invest more in their own digital capabilities and allocate more budget for digital tools to match the capabilities of their new competition. The result? Nothing less than the next generation of innovation, this time led by enablers.
The silent engines that drive transformation
Enablers typically emerge or accelerate growth after their disruptive predecessors introduce technology that reshapes vertical markets and customer expectations. They take on the non-glamorous role of helping incumbents stay relevant. Perhaps because of this approach, the category of enablers has been surprisingly overlooked, especially given their widespread diffusion across the supply chain landscape and the impressive results they have achieved.