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Singapore’s businesses must take lead on supply chain transformation in wake of Covid-19

By Malina Platon, Managing Director of ASEAN, UiPath

The question of supply chain management and the role that technology will play in transforming it has been at the forefront of business leaders’ minds in Singapore for some years now.

In wake of the disruption to global and regional economies caused by Covid-19 and the accompanying lockdowns, supply chains are once again top of mind – particularly with Singapore’s position as a services-based, import-reliant economy being unlikely to change anytime soon.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing highlighted this when he announced earlier in May plans to prioritise sectors closely intertwined with global supply chains, as businesses gradually resume operations following the circuit breaker. These included sectors like precision manufacturing, biopharmaceuticals, and petrochemicals.

More recently, the Minister said the pandemic will accelerate shifts in global supply chains and that it is likely they will be relocated nearer to final demand markets to ensure resilience against future supply disruptions.

It is expected, moreover, that as we adjust to the new environment there will be opportunities to fill unmet demand and participate in new supply chains. Singapore showed leadership in March when, along with six other Pacific Rim countries, it made a pledge to keep its supply chains open during the pandemic despite ongoing shocks to trade flows.

However, unless advanced technologies are further integrated into Singapore’s supply chains after the eventual recovery, we are likely to suffer similar disruptions should global or regional shutdowns happen again – an event unthinkable until only recently. Automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will have a significant role to play in making us more reactive and adaptable to sudden changes by allowing for the digitisation of our Supply Chains.

Progress is being made

Only two years ago, we were predicting that over two-thirds of companies would be using new technologies like RPA to minimise costs, reduce transaction times, increase productivity, and improve levels of compliance within supply chains.

That has largely come to pass. Singaporean companies have automated order processing and payment processes so when you make an order online, the order and shipping confirmations you receive will most likely have been sent by a robot.

Communications are also being automated. Robots are sending e-mails between manufacturers, suppliers, e-commerce firms and even the end customer, updating them on delivery timings, status and delays. Inventory control is increasingly managed by robots too, reordering stock automatically when supplies are low and leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to plan ahead and learn from past demand surges to order the optimal amount of goods.

These have been important and necessary gains for Singapore’s businesses, especially those in sectors reliant on increasingly globalised and complex supply chains.

Automation has slowly but surely been incorporated in ever-greater roles within the modern supply chain, and today a growing number of Singapore’s businesses are relying on it for the flow of supply-side goods. On the demand-side, automation is helping ensure competitive advantages with customers.

Time to digitise our Supply Chains

For Singapore’s businesses, the steady recovery from Covid-19 will provide the perfect time to further strengthen sector-specific and nationally strategic supply chains, so that we are better positioned to weather future storms. The first place to start is by looking to digitise as much of the Supply Chain as possible.

This will create the flexibility and agility needed to adapt to further disruptions. 3D printing will bring some manufacturing closer to home and RPA robots will be able to make judgements on what products need to be made and where based on data patterns. RFID tags allow us to track products wherever they are in the world, with RPA robots able to redirect goods depending on sudden changes in demand.

For Singapore’s businesses, the steady recovery from Covid-19 will provide the perfect time to further strengthen sector-specific and nationally strategic supply chains, so that we are better positioned to weather future storms.

If executed with foresight and at scale, the result will be enhanced cycle time and agility, increased capacity and asset efficiency, and improved receivables in the event of a future global or regional disruption.

At the very least, discussions must begin in earnest in boardrooms across the country so that we can remain globally competitive through the economic ups and downs that will surely be back to test our resilience in the decades to come.

We cannot rely on the government to provide all the solutions. Rather, it is the business community and the private sector that must step up to the challenge and take the lead on this important strategic question of transforming the supply chain.

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