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AI & Robotics: Steering The Supply Chain Ship Amidst COVID-19 Crisis

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has been a wake-up call for accelerated adoption of digitization and automation worldwide.

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Progress inevitably implies higher standards which can be witnessed in the application of futuristic technology all around us and the dawn of the experience economy. The ultra-competitive market demands that not only should you deliver the highest quality output at competitive rates, but also ensure your customer’s engagment with you is a good experience right from prospecting, to order, delivery and after-sales. Man invents tools in a quest for betterment, and AI, ML, Robotics and Automation are the latest in mankind’s arsenal of tools, revolutionizing supply-chains.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has been a wake-up call for accelerated adoption of digitization and automation worldwide. This unprecedented disruption of supply would have been impossible to cope with, if not for technologies like AI, ML, Robotics and IOT. RPA bots are helping with palletized cargo picking, sorting, shelving, moving and packing in warehouses, ensuring that workers can maintain social-distancing and don’t have to waste time and effort walking long distances with heavy loads. Uncertainty looms large, but with AI insights, businesses can diversify product-mix to focus on basics, optimize delivery route and onboard diverse suppliers for business continuity.

Rapid globalization was already showing the limits of traditional supply chains where a single weak link could compromise effort-intensive and expensive operations. As an enterprise grows larger, it’s repository of execution protocols swell and become unmanageably complex and the knowledge capital grows apart and gets compartmentalized. It becomes near impossible to track where resources are being wasted or to apply past learnings in new scenarios to draw on one’s experience. Unlike traditional supply-chains, the supply chain of the future is unified, dynamic and intelligent.

With AI, it is finally possible to answer the big asks of managing complex global supply-networks with transparency and control. The power of Big Data is unleashed in predictive insights like demand forecasts and anticipation of disruptive events. Add machine learning to the equation and you get intelligent prescriptions and autonomous execution of counter-measures with high-success probability. AI simplifies inventory management from order to fulfillment, minimizes errors and helps keep operational costs in check. Customers gain from a unified omnichannel experience with personalized attention and extensive support from an optimal mix of both bots and humans. AI aided learning is helping employees access relevant information in real time as well improved skill-development, cumulating into higher job-satisfaction and retention.

Innovations like computer vision are making it possible to conduct visual quality checks. In a recent application, factory floor and workplace cameras are now augmented with temperature sensors which allow AI to take note when someone is displaying fever symptoms, and alert care authorities. This is helping employees feel safer to return to work in epidemic conditions as well organizations manage risk with proper fail-safes in place. Slow but steady adoption of autonomous vehicles is resulting in cost savings, traffic management, enhanced safety of vulnerable citizens on roads as well as reduced carbon footprint. The increasing availability of Software-as-a-service is making it possible for small businesses to reap the benefits of automation without shelling out huge investment and stand up to competition.

From being a linear and rigid undertaking, the digitized supply chain is dynamic and connected almost like a brain – where engineering, design, sourcing, production, supply, customer and service – all meet on the same nexus. Businesses can listen to the voice of the customer and make agile changes anywhere in the pipeline to quickly address changing demands. Digital development is followed by man-machine collaboration in smart factories, which is resonated in intelligent supply and dynamic fulfilment, meeting the ultimate goal of a deeply satisfied customer.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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artificial intelligence robotics supply chain

Satyajit Jena

The author is Co-Founder and Associate Partner at Acuver Consulting; an IT solutions provider helping companies implement agile technology and automation to exponentially increase efficiencies in their supply-chain and deliver superior customer experience.

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