Sure, managing a supply chain isn't technically rocket science, but it's close. The number of moving parts in even the most basic of supply chains means that supply chain managers can use all the help they can get. AI is an emergent tool that could be of great use to supply chain managers. So where is AI as a tool for supply chain management, and which trends are most shaping AI's role within the industry?
These industry insiders shared their answers to these questions. Here's what they said:
1. Dan Patt, CEO of Vecna Robotics
“A big tend will be orchestration systems that ensure humans, robots, and AI are working together to maximize their inherent strengths. A lot of companies incorporate robots into a single process step within their organization. This limits the machines potential to interact with other parts of the operation (and more importantly learn from those interactions), underutilizes the capabilities of other resources, and limits the operations ability to mix and match process steps based when needs change. It essentially creates a silo effect which decreases efficiency and productivity – the exact opposite of what AI is brought in to do.”
2. Jake Rheude, VP of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment
“We're particularly excited about how robots are getting better and better. They do a lot of heavy lifting in warehouses; not intelligent enough to take the jobs of human workers, but at least make human jobs better and easier than before.”
3. Ed Clarke, co-founder and Managing Director of Yojee
“The whole industry is trying to work out how to make AI more digestible to the average person, and we help by making our products user-friendly, and communicating the benefits of AI without drowning people in jargon.
We have an idea that we come back to a lot when we are thinking about our communication and user experience: make it so a 10-year-old kid could understand it.
People just want to understand how to use and benefit from technology, not the intricate details of its inner workings. The problems we solve are complex, but the key principles are simple: Grouping deliveries to travel less distance. Less distance traveled means less cost. And fuller trucks means more deliveries per truck. Which means higher revenue.”
4. David Hogg, Vice President of Business Development at Logistyx Technologies
“Timeliness is the main factor shaping AI today because it drives the most business for companies in a competitive landscape. Recent moves by eCommerce giants like Amazon and Home Depot to offer guaranteed one-day shipping have put pressure on competitors to implement real-time updates, weather tracking and other features in their AI. This type of visibility offered by AI in supply chains allows shippers to proactively and efficiently address potential delivery events to meet customers' expectations and maintain business goals.”
5. Pervinder Johar, CEO of Blume Global
“More companies are recognizing the value of predictive analytics for optimizing supply chain resources. Without a crystal ball to predict disasters and unknown variables, companies need strategies and tools to help avoid service disruptions. Thanks to the predictive capabilities of AI, these aspirations are possible. With predictive analytics, organizations are able to gather data from all areas of the supply chain and suggest how environmental factors are likely to increase costs, delay the flow of goods, etc. Utilizing this data, companies can elevate productivity, risk management, and mitigation planning, reduce costs and streamline processes — ultimately improving their customers’ experience.”
6. Richard Lebovitz, President and CEO of LeanDNA
“It’s the same trend shaping most of the world right now: massive amounts of data available at our fingertips. An abundance of data should (and could) empower decision making with more information, but the reality is that buyers in factories and supply chain professionals at the procurement level are overwhelmed with information—typically information focuses on showing their negative performance, stopping short of actually recommending actions to solve their issues. The inundation of data has shaped the next step for AI in supply chain: using millions and millions of records to automatically prioritize and make recommendations to improve the business.
There is also a war on talent in supply chains right now. People aren’t interested in working in a tech-deficient industry. Companies are overwhelmed with data showing their problems, but they can’t find people to analyze, prioritize, and identify the actions to actually improve the situation. This is where AI is stepping in.”
7. Govin Ranganathan, Senior Manager of Logistics at NIO
“AI comes with computing technique which helps to select large quantities of data that is collected from logistics and supply chain, analyzes, and makes it possible to measure and track factors that provide accuracy. Although there are many areas of AI applications, areas where organizations have increased their focus is demand forecasting/planning and production planning.”
8. Heather Gadonniex, the VP of Marketing at Samasource
“Demand. Driven by consumers, the need for extremely large amounts of data and the power to process it quickly is shaping how companies invest in and implement AI. Additionally, consumers care about where the products and services they are procuring are coming from now more than ever as organizations strive to incorporate ethical purchasing into supply chain mandates and meet corporate commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is driving companies to rethink how they do business – balancing addressing complex global challenges with the business needs of growth and scale.
There is a notable willingness to better understand how ethics and sustainability guidelines such as ensuring suppliers are incorporating Ethical AI practices into their technology development. This includes understanding worker well being when a technology is being used by a consumer, ensuring the algorithms used to create the AI are not biased, and looking deep into the AI supply chain to validate that the human-in-the-loop that worked to create the AI technology has robust benefits, healthy working conditions, and are paid a living wage. By incorporating these elements into procurement requirements and asking the right questions, we believe companies can reduce operational risk, meet consumer demands, and contribute to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges.”
9. Doug Surrett, Chief Product Strategist at BluJay Solutions
“Most recently, the use of automation in the form of autonomous vehicles and bots has gained popularity. Carriers such as FedEx and UPS have implemented these technologies to offer speedier and more convenient deliveries. This use of automation is becoming more widespread, and companies are trying to integrate these types of technologies into their business models to help tackle last-mile delivery.
For example, carriers are considering autonomous vehicles to allow companies to operate for longer time periods. Since these vehicles would not be subject to drivers with service-hour constraints, they are able to deliver products to consumers faster.”
10. Dr. Madhav Durbha, Group Vice President, Industry Strategy at LLamasoft Supply Chain Management Software
“If I am to pick one that is common across various industries, it is the rapid pace of change on the outside compared to the inside. Sensing external opportunities and risks faster than the competition and incorporating those into supply chain decisioning will set winners apart from losers. Algorithmic approaches that learn and grow smarter with time, as in the case of AI, will become increasingly necessary to combat volatility. The rapid pace of change will also increase the volume and variety of data. AI will be increasingly necessary as planning and execution will need to be more exception driven.”
11. Anand Medepalli, Head of Product at Element AI
“The biggest trend shaping AI in supply chains this year is finding the need to increase velocity for a connected and personalized shopper demanding service. Driving the industry is this idea of the ‘connected shopper.’ They have disrupted the traditional business model and so it is important to focus on customer needs. Customers expect businesses to produce products efficiently, effectively and affordably – they will constantly compare one business to the next.”
12. Chris Bergh, CEO of DataKitchen
“While many leaders consider their supply chain to be a source of risk and potential errors, others see competitive opportunities. These perspectives show how new technologies–from smart sensors to advanced data analytics to machine learning are transforming traditional linear supply chains into connected, intelligent, scalable digital supply networks that help drive growth and reduce costs. Data Analytics and its graduate school brother AI are key to that transformation.”
13. William Crane, founder and CEO of IndustryStar
“We are seeing more and more openness to new software technology startups and a genuine interest in exploring business challenges AI can solve. Further, companies are seeking to collaborate to develop solutions to their most pressing problems. Companies know they need to innovate and innovate faster and we are seeing an appreciation for the nimbleness and speed that smaller technology companies can provide.”
14. Kamal Anand, Chief Technology Officer of Bamboo Rose
“Digitization is the top trend shaping AI in supply chains this year. Bringing partners from manufacturers, suppliers and shippers together on the same digital platform with AI capabilities is incredibly important. Connecting all partners creates an ecosystem that allows automated decision-making to happen. With the current trade war, AI and other technologies are becoming increasingly necessary to fulfill customer needs. With changes happening quickly and the unpredictably it brings, all aspects of the supply chain industry feel the pressure of tariffs, and digitization can help mitigate the implications.”
15. Rajesh Kalidindi, founder and CEO of LevaData
“I think the biggest trend has been the unfolding realization around the volume and quality of data needed to enable AI, and the implementation of data cleansing and enrichment services. A lot of organizations are starting with unsupervised methods to clean their data, often in combination with rule-based approaches.
It’s a prerequisite for what LevaData believes will be the real game-changer – cognitive technologies that augment human intelligence. We’re focused on sensing supply chain risks, pushing those insights to the right sourcing professional, providing them specific recommendations, and learning from the results to continually improve.”
16. Rajeev Gollarahalli, CBO of 42Q
“There are many different trends shaping AI – advanced analytics is a big technology trend, as well as robotic process automation (RPA) and the Internet of Things (IoT). These technologies are being adopted now and over the next few years.”
17. Oren Zaslansky, CEO of Flock Freight
“I think many are changing the last mile, from autonomous driving vehicles to parcel to web to home. The last mile is very hard from a cost perspective and efficiency is everything.”
18. Emily Murphy, Editor of Supply Chain Brief
“Data volume is a game-changer and is pushing people towards adopting AI as a solution. With both supply chain and logistics collecting more and more data every day, finding new and more sophisticated ways to process this information is critical. New types of data have emerged, and the overall process of data creation has also been accelerated. This momentum then requires a more viable technology, like AI, to step in and read this data.”
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