Artificial Intelligence: The next big thing in Supply Chain Management

Imagine the endless possibilities of learning from 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated every day. Artificial intelligence (AI), which began its journey 60 years ago is well on its course to make this implausible scenario a reality. Artificial Intelligence, is slowly taking over our lives.

Artificial Intelligence: The next big thing in Supply Chain Management
"We don't see AI replacing judges or lawyers but we think they will find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes," said Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study at UCL's computer science department. (Reuters)

Imagine the endless possibilities of learning from 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated every day. Artificial intelligence (AI), which began its journey 60 years ago is well on its course to make this implausible scenario a reality. Artificial Intelligence, is slowly taking over our lives.

From personal assistants like Siri in Apple products to stock trading to medical diagnosis, AI is able to learn from seemingly unstructured data, take decisions and perform actions in a way previously unimagined.

Businesses too are undergoing digitization rapidly. They are using AI – capable of performing tasks normally requiring human intelligence – to create a significant impact in the way businesses operate. In an increasingly dynamic environment comprising demanding customers and the need for speed, it was only a matter of time before the businesses embraced AI to obtain much needed agility. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2016 survey spanning 11 countries and 12 industries, 70 percent of corporate executives said they are significantly increasing investments in AI.

Artificial Intelligence in Supply Chain

Organizations are increasingly digitizing their supply chains to differentiate and drive revenue growth. According to Accenture’s digital operations survey 85 percent of organizations have adopted/ will adopt digital technologies in their supply chain within 1 year.

The key implication of this change is that the supply chains are generating massive amounts of data. AI is helping organizations analyze this data, gain a better understanding of the variables in the supply chain and helping them anticipate future scenarios. Thus, the use of AI in supply chains is helping businesses innovate rapidly by reducing the time to market and evolve by establishing an agile supply chain capable of foreseeing and dealing with uncertainties.

The use of AI in supply chains will ultimately result in spawning an ecosystem where supply chains link themselves with each other enabling seamless flow of products and information from one end to the other.

Let’s look at some examples where AI is revolutionizing the supply chain:

Artificial Intelligence in manufacturing and supply chain automation: AI is changing the traditional way in which companies are operating. Siemens in its “lights out” manufacturing plant, has automated some of its production lines to a point where they are run unsupervised for several weeks.

Siemens is also taking a step towards a larger goal of creating Industrie 4.0 or a fully self-organizing factory which will automate the entire supply chain. Here, the demand and order information would automatically get converted into work orders and be incorporated into the production process.

This would streamline manufacturing of highly customized products.

Artificial Intelligence in supplier management and customer service: Organizations are also increasingly leveraging AI for supplier management and customer management. IPsoft’s AI platform, Amelia automates work knowledge and is able to speak to the customers in more than 20 languages. A global oil and gas company has trained Amelia to help provide prompt and more efficient ways of answering invoicing queries from its suppliers. A large US-based media services organization taught Amelia how to support first line agents in order to raise the bar for customer service.

Artificial Intelligence in logistics & warehousing: Logistics function will undergo a fundamental change as artificial intelligence gets deployed to handle domestic and international movement of goods. DHL has stated that its use of autonomous fork lifts is “reaching a level of maturity” in warehouse operations. The next step would be driver less autonomous vehicles undertaking goods delivery operations.

Artificial Intelligence in procurement: AI is helping drive cost reduction and compliance agenda through procurement by generating real time visibility of the spend data. The spend data is automatically classified by AI software and is checked for compliance and any exceptions in real time. Singapore government is carrying out trials of using artificial intelligence to identify and prevent cases of procurement fraud.

The AI algorithm analyzes HR and finance data, procurement requests, tender approvals, workflows, non-financial data like government employee’s family details and vendor employee to identify potentially corrupt or negligent practices. AI will also take up basic procurement activities in the near future thereby helping improve the procurement productivity.

Artificial Intelligence in new product development: AI has totally overhauled the new product development reducing the time to market for new products.

Instead of developing physical prototypes and testing the same, innovators are now creating 3D digital models of the product. AI facilitates interaction of the product developers in the digital space by recognizing the gestures and position of hand. For example, the act of switching on a button of a digital prototype can be accomplished by a gesture.

AI in demand planning and forecasting: Getting the demand planning right is a pain point for many companies. A leading health food company leveraged analytics with machine learning capabilities to analyze their demand variations and trends during promotions.

The outcome of this exercise was a reliable, detailed model highlighting expected results of the trade promotion for the sales and marketing department. Gains included a rapid 20 percent reduction in forecast error and a 30 percent reduction in lost sales.

These examples showcase that in today’s dynamic world, AI embedded supply chains offer a competitive advantage. AI armed with predictive analytics can analyze massive amounts of data generated by the supply chains and help organizations move to a more proactive form of supply chain management.

Thus, in this digital age where the mantra is “evolve or be disrupted”, companies are leveraging AI to reinvent themselves and scale their businesses quickly. AI is becoming a key enabler of the changes that businesses need to make and is helping them manage complexity of the constant digital change.

As AI continues to learn new things which expand its capabilities, it is quickly becoming one of the best innovations of our time.

The article is authored by Manish Chandra, Managing Director, operations strategy, Accenture strategy and Anand Darbhe, Principal, operations strategy, Accenture strategy.

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First published on: 26-07-2016 at 12:32 IST