Feb 22, 2021

Regional supply chains need to hyperautomate and orchestrate the entire ecosystem

Regional supply chains are ready for hyperautomation to deliver real-time intelligence for long term sustainability writes Advait Thakur, IoT & Analytics Solutions Expert IMEAR, Orange Business Services

This article was originally published on Logistics Middle East.

It has taken a global crisis to create the dramatic ‘giant leap’ forward in digital transformation across the world, and as we enter the great ‘re-set’, the world’s deep reliance on supply chains has become very clear. We have seen incredible innovation at incredible speed to ensure we have the vaccines needed. This is just the start because the need now is for global supply chains to deliver – literally; we need the same incredible transformation and innovation in supply chain management, and we need it now.

Our recent global survey on supply chain management and our customer relationships across the region shows a greater response to the need to innovate deeper and faster. This innovation will drive a new level of real-time intelligence based on real-time data, driven by ‘hyperautomation’ – a new term for AI, IoT, APIs and blockchain.

According to our survey, 74% of supply chain leaders have continued to innovate throughout the crisis. While 30% say the pandemic has not impacted their ability to innovate, 44% say that the crisis has had a positive impact. Technology is assisting and enabling this process of innovation.

For example, smart asset tracking helps firms deal with the challenges associated with sourcing goods from a broader range of offshore locations. This is important and the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, which measures the logistics capabilities of the world’s major countries, includes ‘track and trace’ as one of the six strength indicators that make a location attractive to source goods from.

Collaboration meets real-time data
Without effective collaboration, inefficiencies can arise in the handovers between the transport modalities – sea, rail, road and pipeline – and delays may result in penalties. It is not just in global, or regional, logistics that real-time data has become increasingly essential. Without real-time visibility on the whole supply chain, accurate demand forecasting is challenging.

Real-time data can now be captured in cost-effective ways to power better workflows that extend across an ecosystem of business partners. However, just 45% of respondents to our survey say they are using real-time data insights to drive better decision-making today. That figure is likely to double over the next two years: 44% say they have plans to launch real-time data initiatives, to share with ecosystem partners and frontline staff.

There are long term benefits too. Real-time data can improve environmental, social and governance performance indicators – aligned with rising consumer expectations of the companies from which they want to buy goods and services.

AI-enabled planning
Real-time data collection and insights are now possible at scale thanks to 5G, enabling rapid, AI-driven analytics using digital twins to support descriptive, predictive and prescriptive data analytics, enabled by AI and machine learning algorithms. Firms can now move from analysing past performance to anticipate what will happen next, when and why.

Our survey shows how organisations prioritise AI as one of the primary technologies for investment, ranking highest or second-highest, for sustainability, resilience and risk mitigation (along with data analytics infrastructure and automation). It’s no surprise that AI has so many applications across supply chains from simple robotic automation to advanced deep learning systems.

AI-enabled execution
Turning data into action involves automating tasks, based on AI insights, wherever possible. But it is equally important to empower employees with real-time AI-enabled data insights to make the right decisions where manual interventions are necessary to add value.

Just 42% of firms say they are reducing risk in their supply chain by increasing the automation they use to handle rapidly changing demand levels. Still, that figure is forecast to double over the next two years. Meanwhile, 80% believe it is vital to empower employees and supply chain partners with data insights.

This is now achievable with the availability of relatively low-cost IoT sensors, HD cameras and computer vision applications, access to AI and machine learning algorithms, APIs and AI-enabled chatbots. An IoT enabled bot can even check real-time inventory levels, flag anomalous patterns with a manager. At the same time, beneath this interplay of human and digital, blockchain can reliably track goods’ provenance to comply with ethical and sustainable sourcing initiatives.

A digital and human approach
We have to recognise that not all processes can be automated and there will always be tasks where the human touch is vital. Augmenting these workers with digital work instructions via ruggedised tablets, smartphones or virtual or augmented reality devices (such as glasses enabled by 5G) in easy-to-consume formats is critical. It allows people to be more productive, reducing fatigue and frustration.

In this pivotal moment for the world, there are enormous pressures on supply chains. The increasing geodiversity creates complexities and intensifies the need for advanced digitalisation. This is where technology comes in with the vital digital levers to help businesses address the challenges.

The Orange Business Services report, Real-time Intelligence and the Future of Supply Chains surveyed 320 senior executives from multinationals across 18 countries between August and October 2020. The survey was carried out for Orange Business Services by independent research group Longitude, a Financial Times company.

Image via Logistics Middle East

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