Intelligent Automation for Supply Chain Management


Author: Tangent Solutions

Published: 9 June 2020

Until recently, supply chain management and intelligent automation have had about as much success working together, as Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi had in the Barcelona front row. As much as business professionals have tried to pair them both to improve performance and end results, developing the two assets to work in perfect harmony with one another has proven to be elusive. In the modern business of complex networks and multiple stakeholders, businesses need to invest in emerging technologies that make them relevant to ever-changing market demands so that they achieve long-term success. 

And much like Neymar longing to leave the romance of Paris to return to the Barcelona fold, play-makers in supply chain management are now embracing the potential of intelligent automation to transform their businesses, right from the ground floor to the executive suite. In this Blog, we put forward our case on how Robotic Process automation and IA are the key tools that supply chain managers need to integrate, to improve productivity, accuracy, and ultimately, the customer experience.

Current Challenges in the Supply Chain Industry

At a time when global supply chains and trade flows are being disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic, and demand patterns are changing rapidly, many businesses are looking to inject more agility into their systems and processes. 

Businesses are currently faced with a whole host of business challenges as they navigate production, supply, and distribution networks in order to deliver to their customers. Leaning on traditional systems and manual methods only serve to complicate things further. These challenges include;

  • Limited Visibility and Traceability Across the Supply chain
  • The need to simultaneously manage multiple systems 
  • Legacy Systems are complicated to manage and difficult to integrate
  • Manual processes slow down the delivery of services and products to customers
  • Increasing data flows and order volume affect the supply chain

Many businesses need to change the way they do business. By embarking on a digital-first approach and undergoing digital transformation, businesses can take advantage of emerging technologies to completely change and improve processes, logistics and custom satisfaction. When your business accepts and embraces technology as an advantage and not a threat to your existence, you can transform from within, and take your operations to the next level.


The Rise of RPA and Intelligent Automation
in the Supply Chain

Much like the vastly different approaches taken by past Barcelona managers, Johan Cryuff and Pep Guardiola, businesses can currently assess the level of automation in their supply chain management among a broad range of levels. These can range from;

  • No Automation

Heavily reliant on manual processes and reluctant to go digital

  • Basic Automation 

Companies who have gone through process discovery, identified supply chain tasks that can be automated, and are testing the feasibility of these measures in advance of a future roll-out

  • Intermediate Automation 

Progressing beyond the basics, these companies have earmarked opportunities and have already implemented a number of simple processes in a robot environment.

  • Full Automation 

A business with a mature RPA model worked into their business flow. Businesses operating at full automation have advanced to the stage where increasing robot capacity continues to be integrated into their operations, while artificial intelligence is adopted to mimic human skills. 

Beyond Full Automation

Regardless of where your business fits in, on a scale of cabinet files to character recognition, incorporating AI into your existing robotics process allows you to ‘digitise’ a much wider range of tasks. Where the end goal for your supply chain management remains a smooth operation from source to supply, exploring capabilities such as machine learning, optical character identification, and natural language processing are just some of the advanced methods adopted by companies such as Tangent Solutions and UiPath to help companies better manage operations.

The Impact of RPA and IA on the Supply Chain

The most common misconception out there is that robots are coming to take over and replace physical workers. While intelligent automation can deliver a wide range of business benefits, it can never fully replace humans across your operations. Human skills, such as empathy, strategic thinking, creativity, and subject matter expertise still have a critical role to play along the supply chain. The ideal scenario, and one that is advocated for the improvement of supply chain management, is a collaboration between IA and human intelligence that support and augment each other.

Determining your Process Impact
and Allocating Tasks to RPA

With the objective of reducing time and costs and improving accuracy and end-delivery, tasks with the following characteristics benefit most an intervention through automation:

  • High Cost and High resource tasks
  • Tasks with a low business value
  • Tasks that can take hours or even days to complete
  • Tasks with a high error rate
  • Labor-intensive tasks
  • Tasks that challenge compliance due to high manual involvement

How RPA Benefits your Business

Every business has a multitude of tasks that fall into the above categories. By signing these over in the capable hands of RPA, businesses can benefit from a reduction in costs, tasks completed in minutes (or even seconds), a zero error rate, and higher levels of compliance owed to automation. Complex tasks that once stole a lion’s share of your employees’ valuable work-time are now offset and supported by RPA. In return, your employees can devote their time and attention to customer-centric business processes that require creativity, judgment-based decisions, and knowledge application. As a result, supply chain managers can shift their staff away from low-value, repeatable tasks towards value-added activities that generate revenue and drive other improvements.

Processes Suitable for Intelligent Automation in Supply Chain

If companies take full advantage of Intelligent Automation, the overall impact on their business could rival that of the enterprise resource planning wave of the 1990s. Of the many processes that are tailor-made for automation, we have selected the following examples that resonate with any supply chain manager trying to keep operations above board.

1. Order Processing and Payments

Businesses still rely heavily on paperwork to process transactions that, with the right tools, can easily be digitsed. RPA can transform product selection, payment processing, and order confirmation by importing the relevant information into the company database. Thereby, payment gateways can process the desired amount and email confirmations are triggered upon the placement of an order.

2. Email Automation

Ongoing communication between suppliers, manufacturers transport agencies and customers can become a complex operation to maintain. Through RPA, this communication process can be automated by triggering emails and text messages, to the relevant party at the right time, when a specific event occurs.

3. Inventory Management

Suppliers and manufacturers need to be aware of inventory levels to ensure that enough products and spare parts are available to meet customer demands. RPA can effectively monitor inventory in real-time, Sending notifications to managers when product stock levels are low while automatically reorder products below the predefined threshold level. Taken to the next level, it can assist you in pre-determining stock levels by analysing historical data and mapping out demand patterns.

4. Supply and Demand Planning

Before automation, supply and demand planning have typically been a challenging task that requires; data collection and formatting, exceptions analysis, and communication of the established plan. RPA, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, can assist organisations in demand predictions and preparation against unexpected spikes in demand. Using automation, organisations can effectively eliminate the possibility of manual errors and make operations efficient, self-driven, and intelligent.

Supply chain management, in its traditional form, has been dominated by manual processes and tedious tasks. With the introduction of intelligent automation, you are effectively adding a digital workforce to your team; one that can work 24/7, at rapid speed, and producing results at close to a zero error rate. Through RPA, supply chains can be transformed through; increased capacity and asset efficiency, improved receivables, and ultimately, higher levels of supplier, customer, and employee satisfaction. 

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At Tangent Solutions, we leverage off the power of intelligent automation to help supply chain managers achieve higher levels of production, greater compliance, and guaranteed consistency. We encourage professionals to confront their biggest industry challenges and strengthen their position in the marketplace, powered by automation.