The next wave of supply-chain innovation will be driven by startups that help incumbents win – TechCrunch

For years the The dominant narrative for supply chain innovation has focused on the disruptors: upstarters entering the industry with new technologies and business models to displace incumbents.

Less announced was the next wave that these disruptors often catalyze: digital enablers trying to fortify incumbents against the intrusion of their new digital rivals.

But in industries ranging from freight brokerage to B2B marketplaces, these enablers have resurfaced after an initial disruption. For these industries, digital enablers, rather than disruptors, represent the next wave of supply chain innovation.

The recurring second wave of innovation

In freight brokerage, Convoy and Uber Freight digitized the traditional process of matching truckers and loads, allowing them to streamline hours of email and phone calls with simple app-based workflows. Now companies like Parade are arming traditional freight brokers with many of the same tools.

Flexport and Forto made headlines in the freight forwarding by promising more transparency and control. They introduced digital business models that improved the customer experience, but also accelerated an onslaught of pioneers – including and Shipamax – that aimed to make legacy carriers more digital as well.


Photo credit: Menlo Ventures

And in the traditional world of B2B commerce, dominated by trade shows and salespeople, Faire and Ankorstore helped fuel the rise of enablers and Enable.

Enablers take on the unspectacular role of helping established companies stay relevant.

Again and again we see these call-and-response patterns of disruptive innovation across all supply chain categories. History repeats itself as the enablers follow the disruptors across all categories of the supply chain business.

In any case, the threat of displacement has prompted incumbents to increase their investment in their own digital capabilities and budget more for digital tools to match the capabilities of their new competitors. The result? Nothing short of the next generation of innovation, this time led by enablers.

The quiet engines that drive change

Enablers typically emerge or accelerate growth after their disruptive predecessors have introduced technologies that are reshaping industries and customer expectations. They take on the unspectacular role of helping incumbents stay relevant. Perhaps because of this approach, enablers have been surprisingly overlooked as a category, especially considering their pervasiveness across the supply chain landscape and the impressive results they have achieved. The next wave of supply-chain innovation will be driven by startups that help incumbents win – TechCrunch

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