Blog: Navigating the Intersection of Trust and Technology in Supply Chain Management

The evolution of technology has always carried the promise of improving various facets of business, and supply chain management is no exception. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data analytics offer unprecedented opportunities for optimizing supply chain operations. However, the ultimate effectiveness of technology is significantly influenced by the level of trust that human operators place in it. This article delves into the complexities of confidence in technology within the supply chain and how companies can successfully navigate this critical intersection.

The Trust Deficit: An Elephant in the Room

Trust, or the lack thereof, is often the stumbling block for many companies when incorporating new technologies into their supply chain. Skepticism arises for various reasons: the inaccessibility of the algorithmic “‘black box,’’’ the unpredictability of machine learning models, or even fears concerning job security. This trust deficit can create hurdles that inhibit the seamless adoption of supply chain technology.

The Role of Transparency in Building Trust

Transparency is often hailed as the cornerstone for fostering trust. Businesses are therefore exploring options like ‘Explainable AI (XAI),’” where systems offer clarity to a user to better understand why each supply chain decision was made. This level of transparency allows human planners to understand the variables and logic that led to specific recommendations, subsequently enhancing their confidence in the technology.

XAI makes artificial intelligence more understandable for users.  ‘’It’s crucial because it lets people know how an AI system reaches its conclusions, which is vital for trust and accountability. Without XAI, the decision-making process of AI is like a “black box”—complicated and unclear even to those who built it.

For several reasons, understanding how AI comes to an inventory or replenishment decision is useful. It helps ensure the system works correctly and allows for better control over outcomes. This is particularly important when AI decisions could be biased or inconsistent due to varying data quality often found in legacy planning systems . It’s important to consider the data quality in source systems, like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

The quality of data in these systems is critical to the successful of any optimization software, as they are often the primary sources feeding into AI-driven supply chain and inventory management systems. Integrating data from ERP systems, serves as a prime example of the ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ principle highlighting that AI systems, no matter how advanced, will generate unreliable or flawed outcomes if they are fed poor quality data from source systems like ERPs. It underscores the importance of ensuring high-quality input data to achieve trustworthy and effective AI-driven recommendations and decisions.

Quality Over Speed: Balancing the Scale

While supply chain technology promises speedy decisions, the speed should not come at the expense of quality. The ultimate objective is not merely to accelerate decision-making but also to improve its quality. Numerous companies are beginning to adopt this mantra, focusing on delivering more reliable, optimized solutions rather than just quick fixes. The notion of ‘Moving Forward Faster’ should ideally encapsulate both the speed and quality of supply and demand decisions.

The Human Element: Addressing Fears and Anxieties

Apart from the technical aspects, it’s crucial to consider the emotional and psychological factors that affect adoption. Many supply chain professionals fear that automation and AI will lead to job losses. In actuality, technology usually streamlines operations and takes over repetitive tasks, freeing human employees to focus on more strategic, cognitive functions as it did for Wholesale supply manufacturer and GAINS customer GRIMCO. This evolution will begin to create new roles within a company, such as data analysts, AI trainers, and algorithm fairness auditors, that ’didn’t exist a few years ago.  Highlighting career progression paths that involve working with AI can be motivating for employees. This includes creating new roles or opportunities for advancement that focus on AI-driven processes. It helps in building a culture that values continuous learning and adaptation, essential in the rapidly evolving landscape of supply chain technology.

Understanding AI and Its Business Goals

Training employees on the fundamentals of AI and its applications in supply chain management is crucial. This includes educating them about how AI works, its capabilities, limitations, and its strategic role in achieving and exceeding business goals. Knowledge helps to build a workforce that is not only adept at using the technology but also appreciates its value in enhancing decision-making quality. By training staff on AI, businesses can facilitate smoother adaptation to new technologies. Understanding AI’s functionalities and purpose can foster trust among employees, reducing resistance to change and increasing the likelihood of successful technology adoption.

Real-world Supply Chain AI Case Studies

Steel Distribution Case Study

In one instance, a steel distribution company deployed an automated system to suggest optimal locations for storing steel based on sales forecasts and historical data. Initially, planners frequently overrode the ‘system’s recommendations. After a thorough investigation, it was found that the system was suggesting a port city notorious for causing steel to rust rapidly. This oversight was quickly corrected, and the planner’s trust in the system increased.

Food Supply Chain Case Study

Another case involving a major food supplier used machine learning algorithms to predict demand during holiday seasons. However, the system failed to account for cultural nuances in food choices, leading to overstocking of certain items. Once these elements were added to the model, the accuracy improved, and the human operators also started taking the system’s recommendations more seriously.

Future Outlook: The Symbiotic Relationship

The ultimate goal is to establish a symbiotic relationship between technology and human expertise. We should not view the introduction of new technology as “AI replacing people” but instead as “AI enhancing people.” Forward-thinking companies are already on this path. They are innovating on the technology front and investing in training programs that help their human workforce adapt to new technologies. The key lies in continual adaptation and in accepting that both human and machine intelligence have unique strengths that can complement each other. Not all decisions are best left to automation.


Navigating the complex landscape of trust and technology in supply chain management is challenging but crucial. It requires a multifaceted approach that includes transparent algorithms, a focus on decision quality, and a deep understanding of human nature. Companies that can effectively blend these elements will be better positioned to leverage the true potential of technological advancements in their supply chain.

Through comprehensive strategies and openness to evolution, pioneering companies are setting a benchmark for successfully marrying human intuition with machine efficiency. By focusing on human and technological elements, the promise of an optimized, future-proof supply chain is closer than ever.

Listen to the Podcast GAINS ON: Supply Chain Maturity for more on this subject.

Additional Reading

Can Automation Make You a Better Supply Chain Professional?

How Much Would You Gain from Taking an AI Approach to Inventory?

Former Gartner Supply Chain Analyst Amber Salley Joins the GAINS Executive Team