Supply chain has long been considered an essential but very simple part of business. With the rapid growth of logistics software development, supply chain management has transformed into a complex process that revolves around anticipating demand, building profitable partnerships, and maximizing operational efficiency.
What is an intelligent supply chain?
A smart supply chain involves streamlining operations using a number of emerging technologies including big data, IoT, blockchain and RPA. These technologies enable supply chain companies to reduce costs, shorten lead times, minimize negative environmental impacts and achieve unprecedented levels of automation.
Blue Yonder is an AI-powered logistics platform that helps companies monitor their supply chains and continuously optimize operations. The embedded AI system takes into account a company's past sales history, global weather conditions, local socio-economic conditions, and a myriad of other factors that can impact the supply chain.
By analyzing data from local media, weather conditions, and IoT sensors mounted on containers, Blue Yonder successfully predicted how delays caused by a blockage in the Suez Canal would affect the company's customers' production, sales, and operations. By accurately predicting when shipments will arrive at their intended destinations, the client can estimate the impact of potential disruptions and take steps to mitigate them.
Traditional vs. Intelligent Supply Chains
Traditional supply chains involve a limited number of parties that actively communicate with each other and exchange assets. But because these supply chains were formed before the advent of the Internet and digital technology, they are inherently static and linear. In increasingly volatile times, where customer demands are constantly changing, traditional approaches to supply chain management have become inapplicable and therefore obsolete.
Most modern supply chain ecosystems involve a hundred times more participants. Large supply chain networks have to deal with hundreds of parts manufacturers and operate under different regulatory requirements, which leads to an exponential growth in the number of network participants and greatly increases the complexity of operational workflows. This is why modern supply chains require a different approach to communication and collaboration among all parties involved.
Smart Supply Chain Building Blocks
1. Digital Backbone
In order to realize the immense potential of advanced supply chain technologies such as AI, IoT, and blockchain, it is important to first digitize the ecosystem. All of the technologies that make up a smart supply chain require real-time access to data, and the benefits of integrating smart supply chain technologies can be undermined by the fact that even a small portion of the supply chain network relies on paper-based information sharing.
Beyond that, cloud-based methods of data storage and exchange are key to scaling supply chain operations.
2. Internet of Things
In supply chain environments, IoT helps to remotely identify equipment malfunctions and provide decision makers with granular data about the status of equipment and its surroundings. For example, by installing IoT sensors on freight vehicles, companies can assess the need for immediate maintenance. What's more, the same sensors can provide information about the vehicle's location, which can help identify alternative routes.
3. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence enables supply chain organizations to streamline planning and minimize disruptions caused by unpredictable events. In general, demand forecasting is probably one of the most important use cases for AI in the supply chain. AI can automatically process data from all network participants, store it in a unified data repository, and help make evidence-based resource planning decisions.
Additionally, when used in conjunction with IoT, AI can deliver even more value. AI can automatically analyze data streams from IoT sensors and suggest maintenance activities or route and inventory optimization decisions.
Smart supply chains are the perfect place for blockchain to shine. For starters, blockchain provides an unchanging ledger for supply chain networks, which ensures that data is reliable and cannot be tampered with. This allows companies to be confident in their decision-making and AI model output.
Second, with programmable electronic protocols, often called smart contracts, companies can automate the execution of contracts. The implementation of this technology allows for faster contract completion, minimizes the risk of human error, and eliminates intermediary costs. Essentially, with the implementation of smart contracts, the blockchain becomes not only a powerful record-keeping system, but also an automated trading platform.
5. Supply Chain Control Tower
Simplifying access to information is another important element of a truly smart and resilient supply chain. One way to accomplish this is to use supply chain control towers, a term originally coined by Gartner. Rather than sharing data linearly between parties, supply chain network participants send all relevant data to a unified data repository where it can be accessed by relevant partners.
6. Holistic Transformation Approach
Typically, the best approach to a digital transformation program is incremental, which means implementing emerging technologies gradually and aiming for quick results. But when it comes to supply chain operations, in order to achieve true intelligence and autonomy, companies should take a holistic approach to integrating technology because AI, blockchain, and IoT are so interconnected and complement each other in many different ways.
Implementing all of the key technologies can bring supply chains closer to self-sufficiency, efficiency and increasing automation, while even ignoring any of these tools can make smart supply chains slightly less efficient.