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Artificial Intelligence Is the Need of the Hour for Supply Chains

By Krishna Khandelwal, Chief Business Officer, Locus

2020 was the year that saw it all. Economies crumbled as growth rates reduced drastically, innumerable stores shuttered, and delivery businesses ran on all fours to keep up with the ever-growing customer demands. Business heads everywhere were locked in virtual offices trying to come up with answers to tackle the grim situation on the ground. What was missing slowly became clear—resilience and agility in supply chains.

Over a period, businesses crawled back to some sort of normalcy. The ‘new normal’, as it is being called, saw businesses adapting to increasing customer demands and behavior. Businesses had to enable contactless deliveries, faster pick-up and drop-off services, better payment options, and what not! All these changes happened at a lightning pace and there is no doubt in my mind that a higher level of decision intelligence is the need of the hour for businesses to manage the volatility and stay ahead of the curve.

That is where AI comes in. In the last few years, it has changed the face of the supply chain industry by increasing speed and efficiency in decision-making as well as operations in supply chains and logistics. Now it is quickening its step to keep up with the times.  Think reduced cycle times and fewer uncertainties, more accurate capacity planning, and overall enhancement in productivity and profits.

What can AI do for your supply chain?

The pandemic has demanded a reassessment of the supply chain and forced industry leaders to think outside the box. Everything from long-term contracts to previously reliable methods such as demand forecasting stands on shaky grounds. But the truth remains that when it comes to decision-making, intuition can only get us so far. We need AI that is nimble enough to fit the uncertain times we live in. Evolving with the times will mean moving from manual to AI-driven workflows. We need to bring AI to the forefront as the primary processor of data. This does not mean doing away with humans but building a system that leverages both humans and AI to make better decisions.

Now that we’ve acknowledged our need for AI, we need to figure which kind of AI serves which leg of the supply chain. Virtual assistant, data analysis, software solutions, all make use of AI for decision augmentation. This AI provides operational assistance to humans without doing crucial decision-making for them. Automation functions completely on its own without human intervention. Robots carrying out the key processes in manufacturing plants are a good example of it.

Processes that need collaboration like sales, operations planning as well as risk management are better suited to automation. Whereas order fulfillment, demand forecasting, production planning can all benefit from augmentation. This difference can be the first step to understanding what AI can do for supply chains.

Adapt and transform

Not only can AI boost businesses with operational efficiencies it can also adapt entire business models to protect future operations. Real-time inventory tracking in warehouse management systems can halve the shipment-processing time. Transport and logistical bottlenecks can be predicted, fastest and cheapest options in real-time can be identified with ease. AI is the most powerful tool to anticipate complications and keep them at bay. Right from supplier-related data to logistics, AI can be the gamechanger.

Predicting the future

Covid-19 might sound like old news to many but the face of the supply chain industry is changed forever. We are staring in the face of large-scale digital transformation beckoning modern economies. To see this through technology must be embraced with open arms. The future of businesses is flexible and resilient if we invest in AI and accept it as an essential part of the post-COVID world.

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