Many manual processes have had their day in the supply chain, and are being automated for greater efficiency. At least, that is the state of affairs at the most advanced and effective companies. The range of current outcomes in procurement departments and beyond is broad, with some organizations embracing the latest developments and others falling behind.
Companies that haven't yet found a way to make their processes more digitally driven should be working on strategies that will help them take the next step. Unless they make a move soon, they may find a gap is opening between their limited operations and those at tech-savvy competitor firms. Rather than simply making human-run processes more efficient, automation can open new options faster and more efficient than what is possible without technology.
Here come the robots
The Hackett Group recently surveyed office personnel across industries and found that robotic process automation is making its effects felt in procurement departments. As of the organization's latest research, 38 percent of procurement teams are working with RPA system pilot programs. That's a greater rate than human resources departments, but less than global business services or finance.
The Hackett Group's Constantine Limberakis told Supply Chain Management Review personnel are responding to a need by adding more robotic features to their workflows. There is a great deal of information moving between buyers and sellers in B2B transactions today, and using that content intelligently is a major priority. Detecting counterfeit products and keeping the supply chain safe is one potentially valuable use for automated processes.
There are challenges ahead for organizations trying to become more robotic, however: Procurement budgets are not typically increasing, which means firms will have to be creative to find the resources for increased automation. While more companies, on the whole, are investing in RPA in procurement, they may still have a hard time approaching their operational goals.
What makes a region ideally prepared to add more robotic processes to operations? The Economist Intelligence Unit recently tackled this and related questions. For instance, countries may have to change their regulatory and educational frameworks to smoothly add automated technology to corporate frameworks. This has not happened in many places around the world, leaving the future somewhat uncertain.
The EIU added that despite the potential assumption that coming automation will weaken employment prospects for humans, business leaders are pushing ahead aggressively in their efforts to add robotic processes. They are feeling widespread concern that if their organizations are not on the cutting edge of tech development and deployment, they'll be left behind by the wave of new IT innovations. As this process becomes more normalized - and accelerates - the actual results of automation will be clearer.
Whether companies and their home countries are prepared or not, automated processes are on their way. Supply chain leaders who identify ways to make these tools work for them, augmenting human employees rather than wiping out jobs, may find they're able to seize advantages inaccessible to their competitors. The next steps for this technology may have palpable effects on the procurement function within companies of all industries, located worldwide.