Blog: Can Automation Make You a Better Supply Chain Professional?

The role of a supply chain professional is multifaceted, involving many responsibilities. Its complexity can become overwhelming if your supply chain is not optimized using a supply chain planning software like GAINS. But how can you improve planning efficiency without the cost of adding and training additional staff? Are there ways to help your planners and others make a big difference in their day-to-day operations without significant cost? This article will discuss using automation to improve your supply chain operations without breaking the bank.

What Is Automation?

Automation refers to using technology and systems to perform tasks or processes with minimal human intervention. It involves using various technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and software applications to automate repetitive, manual, or time-consuming tasks that humans traditionally perform.

Automation can take many forms, ranging from simple rule-based processes to more complex and sophisticated systems that can analyze data, make decisions, and perform actions autonomously. It can be applied across different industries and domains, including manufacturing, logistics, customer service, etc. Click here for GAINS’ guide to Automate Your Way to Better Decisions.

Scalable Supply Chain Teams

Automation aims to streamline and optimize business processes, improve efficiency, reduce errors, save time and costs, and enhance productivity. Automation can involve data entry, processing, analysis, report generation, document handling, repetitive physical tasks, customer inquiries, and more. Careful planning, evaluation, and implementation of automation are essential to ensure it aligns with the overall business strategy and goals.

As GAINS customer Matt Luther, Director of Supply Chain at Grimco, explains, “With the introduction of automation, as our business has grown over the last few years, we’ve leveraged automation so that we haven’t had to increase our team size. If we placed 100,000 purchase order lines per team member before we brought in automation, we could now get 150,000 lines per team member. Automating our process has allowed us to do more with less; even though we’re not downsizing the team, we do not have to add the same number of resources that we did two years ago to keep up with the growth of our business.”

Critical Areas of Focus for Supply Chain Professionals

There are many things that successful supply chain pros must balance; while some things can be trusted to automation, other more sophisticated matters require a human touch.

Strategic planning: Strategic plans are critical to the success of your supply chain operations. This function involves setting goals, defining strategies, and aligning supply chain operations with overall business objectives. The complexity of developing and implementing strategic plans for your entire supply chain includes sourcing, procurement, production, transportation, warehousing, and distribution. These processes could be candidates for automation due to the project scope and the complexity of decisions.

Continuous improvement: Arguably one of the most critical responsibilities of a supply chain pro. This area involves conducting regular performance evaluations, implementing ongoing process improvements, and driving continuous improvement initiatives across the supply chain. It may include staying updated with industry trends, market dynamics, and regulatory changes to adapt and respond to changing business environments effectively. Supply chain management is a dynamic and complex field with many moving parts requiring a lot of attention and energy. It can be challenging to identify priorities effectively and ensure that “the plates keep spinning,” and automation can be a big help.

Supplier management: Supplier management is essential for ensuring a reliable and efficient supply of goods and services to support the organization’s operations. Working with suppliers to establish and maintain relationships, negotiate contracts, manage performance, monitor quality, and ensure timely delivery of goods and services. While some functions of supplier management can be automated (such as automatically sharing monthly forecasting data with vendors as GAINS customer Benco Dental does.) Building personal and professional relationships are best left to actual people.

Collaboration and communication: Supply chain professionals should work closely with internal and external stakeholders, including procurement, production, sales, marketing, customers, suppliers, and logistics providers. Effective collaboration and communication ensure smooth coordination and alignment across the supply chain. While this isn’t a process ideal for automation, collaboration functions (as mentioned above) can be automated to improve communication, including:

  • Collaborative forecasting and planning: Automation can enable collaborative forecasting and planning processes, where stakeholders can jointly contribute to demand planning and forecasting, inventory planning, and production planning. This collaboration allows for more accurate and coordinated decision-making, improving communication and alignment across the supply chain.
  • Notifications and alerts: Automation can automatically send notifications and alerts to relevant stakeholders when specific events or milestones occur in the supply chain, such as order confirmation, shipment delays, or inventory shortages. These alerts help stakeholders stay informed and enable timely communication and action, minimizing delays and disruptions.
  • Real-time visibility: Automation can provide real-time visibility into supply chain operations, allowing stakeholders to track and monitor shipments, inventory levels, production progress, and other vital metrics. Real-time visibility improves communication by providing up-to-date information that enables stakeholders to make informed decisions, resolve issues, and collaborate effectively.
  • Real-time visibility: Automation can provide real-time visibility into supply chain operations, allowing stakeholders to track and monitor shipments, inventory levels, production progress, and other vital metrics. Real-time visibility improves communication by providing up-to-date information that enables stakeholders to make informed decisions, resolve issues, and collaborate effectively.

Inventory management: Sustaining target inventory and service levels simultaneously across complex multi-echelon bills-of-materials and distribution networks is tough. That’s why Inventory Optimization with GAINS uses sophisticated, automated, proprietary algorithms considering a comprehensive set of cost and source variabilities, including service-level goals, demand plan error, and lead time for every SKU by location across the enterprise.

Warehouse management: Supply chain professionals may also oversee warehouse operations, including layout design, inventory placement, order fulfillment, and warehouse efficiency. They are responsible for optimizing warehouse processes to ensure efficient product flow and minimize handling and storage costs. There will be more to come on this in future blog posts.

Risk management: Supply chain professionals identify, assess, and mitigate risks that could impact the supply chain, such as supply disruptions, transportation delays, natural disasters, geopolitical risks, and regulatory changes. GAINS leverages machine learning and AI to take the guesswork out of the S&OP process, help you confidently evaluate multiple scenarios, and drive better business alignment across strategic, tactical, and operational planning horizons. It is helping you to develop better risk management strategies and contingency plans to minimize disruptions and ensure business continuity.

What Types of Decisions Can Be Automated?

Automation can handle a wide range of decisions, depending on the level of sophistication and complexity of the automated system. Automation can handle simple decision-making tasks that do not require complex judgment or human intuition. For example, an automated system can handle basic customer inquiries or requests based on pre-defined responses in a chatbot or virtual assistant.

Some examples that can be left to automation include:

Routine and rule-based decisions: Automation can handle decisions that follow pre-defined rules or logic. For example, an automated system can automatically route customer inquiries to appropriate departments based on pre-defined criteria, such as keywords or customer information, in a customer service scenario. While a reasonably small ask for a sophisticated tool, a little difference can impact your customer and employee experiences. And using machine learning, these automations become more accurate and impactful over time.

Data-driven decisions: Automation can analyze large volumes of supply chain data and make decisions based on patterns, trends, or other data-driven insights. For instance, GAINS can automatically analyze historical sales data and market trends to adjust inventory levels.

Predictive decisions: GAINS uses advanced algorithms leveraging machine learning to make predictions based on historical and other data to detect patterns, forecast demand, and optimize inventory levels accordingly.

Exception handling decisions: Automation can handle exceptions or error cases based on pre-defined rules. For example, GAINS can flag invoices that do not comply with pre-defined rules for further review by a person.

The level of automated decision-making depends on the complexity and capabilities of the system, as well as the domain and context in which it is used. In some instances, human oversight, monitoring, and intervention may still be required to ensure accuracy, compliance, and accountability.

The Benefits of Making Automation Work for You

Introducing automation into your company’s workflow can offer several clear benefits, including:

  1. Increased efficiency:  Streamlining repetitive and time-consuming tasks, allowing staff to complete them faster and with fewer errors. This benefit can save time for more valuable and strategic work, increasing productivity, efficiency, and job satisfaction.
  2. Cost savings: Reduce labor costs by minimizing the need for manual labor and human intervention with automation. It can also help eliminate costly errors and rework, resulting in cost savings over time.
  3. Improved accuracy: Automated systems are designed to be precise and consistent, reducing the risk of human error. It can improve your work’s accuracy and quality, positively impacting customer satisfaction and overall business performance.
  4. Enhanced scalability: Automation can help you scale your operations without increasing your workforce proportionally. As the volume of work increases, automated systems can handle the additional load efficiently, making it easier to expand your business operations.
  5. Enhanced decision-making: Enable data-driven decision-making using timely data and insights from automated processes. You’ll make more informed and strategic decisions, improving outcomes and results.
  6. Increased competitiveness: Automation gives you a competitive edge by enabling you to deliver products or services faster, more accurately, and at a lower cost than your competitors. This edge can help you stay ahead in a rapidly changing business landscape.
  7. Employee empowerment: Relieve employees from repetitive and mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on more meaningful and value-added work. This automation can boost employee morale, job satisfaction, and creativity, leading to a more engaged and empowered workforce.
  8. Enhanced customer experience: Enable your teams to deliver a more consistent and personalized customer experience. Automated systems can handle customer inquiries, process orders, and provide self-service options, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Automation in Supply Chain

As demonstrated in this article, automation in your supply chain brings numerous benefits, as outlined above. To recap, here are some specific benefits of automation in the supply chain:

  • Planning: Automation helps streamline planning by analyzing data, identifying patterns, and generating forecasts. By automating these tasks, supply chain planners can save time and reduce errors, resulting in better decision-making and more efficient use of resources.
  • Sharing data: Automation can make it easier for companies to share data across the supply chain. Using standardized formats and protocols, systems can exchange information quickly and accurately, improving communication and collaboration among supply chain partners.
  • Integrating outside data: GAINS can help integrate data from external sources, such as weather forecasts, traffic reports, and market trends, incorporating this information into supply chain planning and execution. This automation makes companies more agile to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and make better-informed decisions quickly.
  • Reducing mundane tasks: Automation can eliminate many repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as data entry, tracking inventory, and generating reports. Supply chain professionals can now focus on more strategic and value-added activities like analyzing data, identifying trends, and building partner relationships.

Overall, automation can help companies like yours become more efficient, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction by streamlining processes, improving accuracy, and enabling better decision-making.

Click here to learn more about how GAINS can help you bring automation into your supply chain operations today.

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Boost Accuracy in Demand Planning: Look Beyond Historical Data

The Arguments Against Using Excel for Supply Chain Management

Speed, Flexibility, and Why “Traditional” Planning Methods Just Aren’t Enough