Aug 21, 2021
Glenda Brady

Hyperautomation: is it the Future of Global Supply Chains?

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Internal and external factors have proven to have a significant impact on supply chains but with technological advancement this shouldn’t be the case

Recent events such as COVID and geopolitical issues have exposed the weaknesses in our global supply chains. 2020 saw a number of challenges and our industry was almost brought to its knees as global supply chains faltered and production and distribution of essential goods were delayed or ground to a halt completely.

In a recent Orange Business Services survey, 40% of multinational corporations were unable to cope with the crisis created by the pandemic and 83% of companies said that they are more aware of their supply chain risks today than they were a year ago.

As with all disruption to businesses, those that turn it into an opportunity will see the most benefits. While there is no denying the last year has been extremely tough, it did also advance digital transformation like never before. According to McKinsey and Company, since the start of the pandemic, 85% of companies have accelerated digitization, 67% of companies have accelerated automation and AI and 36% of companies have digitized their supply chain. 

Those that still run on legacy infrastructure, with its associated pain points, have the opportunity to embrace innovation and new technologies. The ‘Just in time’ model is a business process that has worked for many years, but with a globalised, digital world it is no longer relevant, and businesses need to adapt. 

With the advancement of technologies like AI and IoT, there is the ability to kick-start industry and revitalise supply chains, when they are combined with hyper-automation. In fact, by 2025, customers will be the first humans to touch more than 20% of all products and produce. Gartner anticipates that in the next four years, there will be a critical mass of commercial examples of products or produce that have fully automated end-to-end processes.

It is critical that any technologies embraced are able to keep supply chains moving, no matter what occurs that could interrupt them. 

What is hyperautomation?

Hyperautomation is crucial to future proof businesses. It includes AI-enabled robotic process automation (RPA) and other digital technologies such as IoT, chatbots, and blockchain to help address challenges and mitigate inefficiencies in the supply chain.

Supply chains involve executing scripted tasks that are routine, repetitive, rule-based and predictable, and therefore are ideally suited for the benefits that RPA can bring. In addition, its ability to perform the same processes or tasks while working 24/7, faster, with less errors and at a lower cost to human workers makes it invaluable. So it is not a surprise that PWC predicts that by the mid-2030s, up to 30% of all jobs could be automatable. 

While this has caused concern for jobs over the automation of processes, in reality, technology could create millions more jobs than it displaces. According to the World Economic Forum, there will be more jobs created over the next few years than lost by automation. 

Hyperautomation is key to taking over tasks that are otherwise time-consuming and inefficient, freeing up workers’ time so they can focus on more important and valuable tasks to the business. There are many tasks and processes that computers and machines are incapable of doing to the same level as a human. By introducing RPA to free up time, the existing workforce can be reskilled and drive innovation within the business. 

The benefits of a hyper-automated supply chain

The last year has shown there are clearly areas for improvement in supply chains. High-volume business processes need to be streamlined and automated to speed them up and enable adaptation in near real-time. Many things can affect the supply chain, from consumer-demand changes and the availability of supplies from each vendor to external market factors and many others. Without automation and the ability to make changes quickly, these effects can significantly impact a supply chain, and ultimately a business’ bottom line. 

Without the right processes in place, product inventories won’t match demand, quote-to-cash and procure-to-pay purchase orders may not be accurate and timely, and invoicing system workflows will be inefficient. No matter how rapidly the environment changes, a supply chain needs to adapt to ensure the right processes are in place. While in years past these would have been carried out manually, with technology advancements RPA can automate them at speed. 

Everything from procurement and predictive maintenance to order management and fulfilment can reap the benefits from RPA. While RPA excels in automating routine, repetitive and stable tasks, not all business processes are this simple.

By incorporating other technologies like IoT sensors, machine learning, conversational intelligence and process mining, RPA can handle most workloads. For example, using machine learning, an RPA bot can learn the best course of action and initiate a chatbot discussion with a supervisor if clarification is required.

Another example of hyper-automation is in manufacturing with predictive maintenance. By attaching IoT sensors to production line machinery, data can be gathered and automatically analysed. Instead of waiting for machinery to stop working to see what the issue is and schedule maintenance, the technology can learn what factors signal that a failure is imminent and schedule maintenance or a repair in advance. Through the combination of IoT and RPA, a manufacturer can remove errors, improve response times and most importantly ensure less downtime due to machinery issues.

The future of successful global supply chains is hyper-automation. According to our research, 42% of enterprises surveyed say they are using automation to manage risks, and this will double over the next two years. 80% of multinational companies now say they believe that automation is vital to empowering both employees and supply-chain partners with data insights. By investing in this technology now, organisations can future-proof their supply chains, remain competitive and keep global industry moving……no matter what factors out of their control occur.

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