How analytics and automation can create better supply chains

In today's fast-paced, digitized world, efficiency is a necessity for companies. The Internet of Things has provided global supply chains with a robust lineup of innovative technologies and solutions for optimizing workflow, reducing costs and improving customer service. Whether it is for manufacturing and assembly lines, warehouse and inventory management or transportation and logistics, each function of business operations can be significantly improved with the use of artificial intelligence. Computerized systems have the power to reduce human error, identify and mitigate potential risks and disruptions, increase performance and, ultimately, improve an organization's bottom line.

It is becoming increasingly important in today's competitive market for companies to implement strategies that facilitate cost reductions and streamline production to stay ahead of competitors. For this reason, supply chain managers are tasked with integrating solutions that give businesses back the time and money previously spent on unnecessary functions.

Adopting automation systems
As more business operations move to digital platforms, many areas are becoming data oriented. Manual entry of this essential information can be both time consuming and tedious. Some of the major downsides of humans being responsible for such processes were highlighted in a white paper published by Lexmark. Not only does it take longer and reduce productivity which, in turn, leads to higher costs, but it also leaves too much room for error.

However, as the source pointed out, by utilizing Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, supply chain executives can effectively resolve a lot of these concerns. Although this type of technology has long been used in assembly lines, it is becoming significantly more sophisticated. With advanced software, these robots possess dynamic capabilities that can improve workflow and lead to cost-savings by handling functions such as order scheduling and shipment tracking. This leads to reduced worker and labor-related expenses and improves customer service.

The white paper gave an example of when RPA was particularly beneficial to logistics transportation. A truckload carrier began using the technology to handle order scheduling, as well as retrieving, updating and filing customer documents. Workers were able to focus on other essential areas of business and the company reduced costs by 90 percent.

Leveraging analytics for supply chain optimization
At this point, it's hard for managers to ignore the prominence of data and analytics. This technology has been a huge aspect in the digital revolution because it provides business leaders with quantitative metrics that can help them learn more about their customers. However, it can and should also be used for internal process improvements as well.

And while the majority of companies acknowledge big data analytics can add considerable value to supply chain functions, according to an Accenture Global Operations report, only 17 percent have actually started using them. There are a wide range of benefits that the use of this information offers, including:

  • Increased visibility across multiple platforms
  • Real-time inventory management and order distribution
  • Better risk mitigation planning
  • Reduced order-to-deliver cycle times
  • Quicker response to disruptions and non-compliance issues
  • Improved traceability

The source also noted that two of the top concerns supply chain professionals have about big data analytics are security and financial investment. However, it is important that businesses identify where exactly the installation of innovative technologies will be most effective and profitable.

Although a certain degree of flexibility and patience is needed following the adoption of automated systems and new solutions, there should also be a return on investment that benefits the company in the long run. Many industry experts have warned against supply chain managers jumping too quickly at the opportunity to implement a modern strategy into the business model before first understanding that possible effects it may have on profits.

As Lexmark explained in its white paper, developing and enforcing a new, automated process involves IT divisions, which makes it all too easy for some companies to consider the adoption digital processes a low priority and focus on other day-to-day tasks. Unfortunately, it isn't uncommon for the projects to be forgotten about altogether. To avoid this, it would be wise for managers to consult with supply chain solutions specialists that have the knowledge and experience needed to ensure the best, most cost-effective strategies are used.

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