Technology has always been the bridge over the gap in how our processes work, and how they could work. Giant strides in technological advancement, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are enabling our supply chains to embrace the future. It is enabling our businesses to become more efficient and more profitable, through smarter working.
We see this in RFID tags in warehouses, to GPS tracking of shipments. We see it in robotics on the manufacturing line and drones in inventory management. Supply chains both drive and utilise the technology.
However, it’s not just the technology alone that makes smarter supply chains possible. Equally important is the software that enables it.
The Use of Machine Learning and AI
The combination of AI and machine learning is enabling computer systems to undertake tasks that have previously been laboriously undertaken by workers, or outside of possibility with normal human time constraints. Currently, this is particularly important, as it means we can use machine learning and AI to help us continue to succeed given worker shortages or inability.
It takes software developers to ascertain what is needed in terms of the management of data. It is the software which enables us to achieve what we need to a far bigger scale. What’s more, software can go further than a human can. Learning from much larger swathes of data, and then requiring the human-skill in terms of decision-making and problem-solving, is something impossible without software.
This is particularly vital when it comes to micro and small changes, which have a large ‘knock-on’ effect. The precise ability to spot and report on very small fluctuations is near impossible for the human mind. A computer program simply works it out like a giant calculator. The data is then fed back in useful decision-making fashion.
It’s no longer the stuff of science fiction, but really tangible and useful in the everyday functioning of our supply chains. Suddenly, forecasting decisions are far more accurate because every microcosm of data can be analysed and learned from.
It’s a reality that a machine can achieve far more in terms of performance than a human – prone to mistakes and limited capacity. Mathematical models can look at every single aspect of a supply chain to see how different factors affect the outcome. For example, mathematical models, through software, can work out relationships between weather and traffic. It’s about being able to spot patterns in the tiniest detail. Analysing these patterns enables us to learn.
It also enables us to predict for the future with greater accuracy. Given tight margins, and multiple factors affecting them, these tiny predictions have real impact.
The Smart Supply Chain
Procurement is a further area of the supply chain that benefits from advances in the use of software, to make it more ‘intelligent’ and capable of flexing to change. A combination of compliance requirements, real-time information, and guidelines come together to make improvements.
The IoT (Internet of Things) is a good example here. The IoT enables interconnection between all enabled devices via the internet. Each item, in your inventory, for example, can send and receive messages. This means that the daily tasks of procurement are more easily automated, being passed on to robots to action. By getting automation to handle these mundane and repetitive data-driven tasks, the human workforce is freed up for more skilled purposes.
The future challenges of software, which are not a long way in the distance, are to continually optimise workloads. This should help in terms of compliance, ordering, contract management and more.
How to Create a Smart Supply Chain
Businesses with smart supply chains will be more able to tackle the challenges facing the industry. However, given the pace of change, it is vital to understand the full meaning of digitisation. This is particularly relevant within the context of how it specifically applies in your particular case.
Instead of looking at what software is already available, you should look to your processes. Looking at them, you need to identify which are the ones which would benefit from being digitised in terms of man-hours and capabilities. Where is the most time spent on repetitive manual tasks that take time and can experience errors?
What’s on the Horizon?
There are a great number of exciting advances on the horizon. Smart technology is now moving into the realm of algorithmic decision-making, which will help businesses to optimise their decisions where inventory is concerned. Alongside this, businesses will be provided with data-driven insights as to what they can actually do to improve profitability. This represents a shift from predictive to prescriptive analytics.
This is a trend that will continue more and more, as software developers add prescriptive analytics capabilities into what they do. It will enable us to cope more easily with increasingly complex supply chain systems. Data needn’t be frightening, but instead be welcomed in huge scales because we have the capacity to deal with it. This is turn means that we can comfortably work with multiple partners anywhere globally and still feel confident.
It also puts more power and control in the hands of those who should have the power and control. Cloud computing mixed with the right software means that businesses can use complex enterprise resource planning (ERP) on a scale we haven’t seen before. The right software developments can give the right people the visibility they need to understand everything that is going on and affects their supply chain.
All in all, this is therefore about improving effectiveness through the advancement of software and technology. This cannot be an individual process but relies on integration between every ‘link’ in the chain. We are seeing this with sensor technology and its importance for keeping an eye on things in a way that humans can’t.
Software, combined with the technology to power it, will be crucial to supply chains tackling future issues. Find out more about the best software for your business get our supply chain consultants on board. Call now on +44 (0) 121 517 0008.