Gartner recently placed Robotic Process Automation in their top five key technology trends which will disrupt supply chains over the next five years. Their research vice president was quoted as saying “…it’s safe to say that [these] technologies will disrupt people, business objectives and IT systems.”
Too true. For me, RPA may as well have headed the list (in fact, it was no.4). Whatever advances are made in global business, so much still depends on the prompt and efficient movement of goods from one point to another – a strong supply chain often means a strong business.
On the basic level, supply chain management makes use of RPA to automate common, low-value tasks, both streamlining operations in the supply chain and removes human error. For most businesses, they’re probably just looking to RPA to allow them to scale up faster and meet supply requirements as demand increases.
But how will this be achieved? Here are three areas that RPA will radically change in the current supply chain system.
Data and analytics capability I think there’s a really interesting connection between big data and analytics, and RPA, which will start to have a big effect on the supply chain. With automated analysis of data sets we’ll be able to forecast significant events like spikes in demand much further in advance and with a greater degree of accuracy. Robots tend to empower humans in this regard. Humans are great at spotting patterns, but aren’t as thorough in reporting back on what’s happening in the supply chain, and can be affected by confirmation bias etc.
A robot literally tells you what it's done, and how it's done it, and how long it's taken them to do it. We should start to think about a world where you have robots ‘on either end’, so not just receiving information, and then raising a purchase order and so on. If you had robots the whole way down the supply chain, you're going to get some really interesting analytics out of that increased power which will make the whole process much more efficient in the future.
Smashing complexity Due to globalisation, supply chains have now reached a level of great complexity. To the extent that even a massive global leader like Apple isn’t going to have particularly good visibility of where their supplies are coming from. For example, the rare earth metals that form a key part of your iphone – are they coming from a sustainable and legal mine, or are they being sourced from a mine with a terrible human rights record and poor health and safety?
With RPA automating various elements of the supply chain and providing that clarity of data we’ve already talked about, there will be a greater degree of transparency in the parts of a supply chain which may have previously presented some moral or ethical quandaries. Companies certainly won’t be able to hide behind the excuse of ‘well, we didn’t know where those supplies were coming from’, for much longer.
Customer service A supply chain can be as streamlined as you like, but ultimately the very end of that chain can be seen as the customer, consumer, end user, whatever you want to say. And if they’re not happy, then the other efficiencies introduced by RPA will have been for nothing.
Whether it’s moving processes from off-shore to on-shore, having automated chat bots provide 24/7 support to customers, or using automation to plan for greater human capacity at peak times in the year, RPA can help companies provide a much more direct and better service.
Hopefully this offers a bit more insight into exactly how the introduction of robotic process automation will affect supply chains for the better, around the world. Transparency, speed and customer satisfaction will surely be useful hallmarks to aim for, instead of viewing RPA as a silver bullet solution. Understanding the power of RPA and where it will drive true change will mean that businesses can ensure any disruption is positive in the short and long term, but also safeguard and optimise the role of the human in the supply chain for years to come.