The pandemic and the ensuing disruptions it has brought with it has prompted the corporate world to transition to a more agile work environment. Of the massive instability and uncertainty that has come about in the past few months, supply chains globally probably took the most hit. But then again, it was the supply chains that also had to adapt quickly to the ensuing disruptions and re-engineer the way they did business. Not just social and economic disruptions, supply chains and businesses, in general, must be agile enough and responsive to changing customer preferences and demand. Also, in a highly competitive marketplace, where your offerings are replicated by the next seller and the next, one of the ways you can stand out from the competition is by being able to reach out to the customer first. That means being ready to deliver as and when the demand arises.
An agile supply chain helps companies achieve this by being more responsive and current with marketplace conditions and consumer sentiment. The idea is to deliver goods and services to consumers quickly and cost-effectively. Speed, efficiency, and adaptability are key factors supporting an agile supply chain network. And the key to enabling these factors is data.
Data sits at the core of supply chain agility, and it is this data that will facilitate the three factors of speed, efficiency, and adaptability. Having access to data on current and future market demand will help supply chains prepare in advance to service that demand. Another important thing to consider is the degree of collaboration between different departments tied to and servicing the supply chains. A unified passage of data and information between departments, and between the departments and the company’s various stakeholders will help drive the right insights about the state of business and customer orders.
Access to current data, from say, transactional and source documents, helps companies build a collaborative network to plan proper supply chain efforts to deliver customer orders on time. In other words, a centralized access to current business data on the developments in a company increases visibility across and between departments, enabling better coordination of tasks to facilitate timely supply chain activities and demand fulfillment. The benefits of ready data availability are cumulative — once transaction data is obtained, it will be easy to identify bottlenecks along the supply chain, like say, duplicate sales order forms or missing customer data, which could delay sales order processing and order fulfillment. Data availability helps align supply and demand channels, enabling companies to say, match order information with inventory data, and coordinate activities to say, stock-up inventory; engage in packaging, transportation, and delivery to fulfill demand; or even recall delivered goods due to for example, a defect or simply because a customer chose to return the item.
Technology plays a vital role in synchronizing supply chain activities like these and creating more agile supply and logistics channels. Intelligent automation, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, AI and machine learning, intelligent data capture, etc. all help build visibility along the supply chain, enabling better communication and coordination between the various participants along the chain. A connected supply chain is an agile supply chain.
Intelligent Process Automation (IPA): data drives many business processes, and when it comes to supply-demand networks, movement of goods and services is not possible without accurate data. Intelligent process automation combines digital transformation technologies like AI, machine learning, robotic process automation, and intelligent data capture to drive advanced data capture and process automation of document-dependent functions in the supply chain.
Document-intensive processes like customer sales order processing are usually manual, repetitive tasks that involve a lot of data entry and data validation work. Manual paperwork such as this takes up a lot of time and is usually error-prone. An IPA platform solution resolves the typical bottlenecks that come with customer sales order processing and accelerates the time it takes to fulfill customer demand. Intelligent automation bots capture transaction data at the source, in this case, a customer sales order right at the point where it originates; extract data from the order form; validate that data by say, cross-checking extracted information in the web form with the original physical document, cross-checking line-item and header-footer details for accuracy, checking the customer database or customer order details to confirm authenticity of the order, etc.
Data validation may include any number of steps depending on business requirements, and may include inventory checks such as confirming availability or non-availability of the order, etc. After data validation, the bots proceed to route the extracted data for approval by a verification manager, before finally creating a transaction entry in a connected ERP system. This makes it convenient for users to look at the ERP as well as the inventory status and proceed to process and deliver the order to the end customer.
Warehouse Automation: AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics now dominate warehouse automation, accelerating the delivery of goods from the shop floor to the end-customer. These technologies, which are embedded into systems and processes in a warehouse, help harness data on the movement of goods and logistics, and generate reports on the state of transition of a particular order from the shop floor to the end-customer.
3D Printing: 3-D printing essentially decentralizes production, greatly lowering inventory real-estate, transportation and logistics traffic, and all the associated costs and complexities that come with it. 3-D printing uses more affordable raw materials and infrastructure to manufacture and reproduce products and component parts, at a location closer to where the demand was created, making it convenient and cost-effective for companies to strictly push orders as and when demand arises.
Technology lowers the complexities of supply chain management and introduces visibility, transparency, reliability, and communication between the various participants along the chain. Having ready data on the status and transition of goods along a supply chain increases the scope for companies to accelerate delivery and fulfill demand. An agile supply chain in today’s highly competitive landscape is not possible without advanced intelligent automation and warehouse technologies.