July 2017 | Commentary | IT Matters: Logistics & Supply Chain Technology

How New Technology is Boosting Human Potential in the Supply Chain

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by Michael Meyer, Operations Strategy Managing Director, Accenture Strategy, 571-434-5003

Advances in automation are liberating untapped human potential in the supply chain. A new opportunity to significantly improve operational performance is emerging due to advances in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and prescriptive analytics.

These advances are not about technology versus humans, but about how technology will supplement and augment humans in knowledge-intensive areas such as supply chain planning, customer order management, and inventory management. And it's about how, in time, these advances will deliver even better business outcomes by helping people reframe how they make decisions.

Shifting Roles

Automation is about liberating the supply chain workforce to focus on what people do best: the abstract thinking and contextual reasoning that still eludes machines. But as these technologies improve productivity, the human supply chain workforce will need to move beyond traditional roles.

As machines come to tackle more rote tasks, new, value-enhancing roles will emerge. Human workers will be equipped to function increasingly as internal entrepreneurs. They will be dynamic innovators who can proactively identify growth opportunities and manage the risks associated with them.

Leading companies are already making strides in augmenting the supply chain workforce. So can you, by focusing on these three actions:

  1. Attract the future workforce. Identify exceptional talent to fill the roles of intrapreneurs and innovators. Seek out talent that not only demonstrates a fundamental grasp of key technologies, but also a drive to leverage them.

    Advanced technologies will also be needed to support the human intrapreneurs tasked with driving future innovation and growth. View recruitment, performance metrics, and career advancement through a lens of technology-driven innovation.

  2. Extract the robot. Start prioritizing and defining robotic process automation opportunities. Begin with the most routine and transaction-focused activities, such as data processing and cleansing.

    The real value comes from leveraging technologies to drive innovative supply chains that support growth by offering new products and services. Redirect your workers to focus on the customer, service level promises, and new products and services.

  3. Place innovation bets. Map opportunities to existing technology solutions according to their maturity and availability. Multi-echelon inventory optimization technologies are already on the market, as are techniques such as game theory and non-linear or stochastic dynamic programming. These technologies incorporate complex algorithms to help optimize planning. Start exploring their potential, talk to their inventors, and consider pilots.

Power Performance

The combined power of humans and machines offers an unprecedented opportunity to drive a shift in supply chain operational performance. This enhanced workforce is improving operational efficiency, and, in time, will deliver significantly better business outcomes.

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