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Robotic Process Automation in Supply Chain & Logistics: 6 Key Use Cases

Stephen Booze
Dec 29, 2022 11:17:24 AM

Robotic process automation (RPA) is transforming the supply chain industry faster than any other technology, and a new generation of supply chain professionals is taking advantage of it. Automation is becoming increasingly critical, but many professionals aren't sure where to start. RPA is a way to automate certain types of human tasks through the use of software.

Initially, software robots were not flexible enough to handle complex situations in Supply Chain because they were unintelligent and could only automate parts of the supply chain which followed a set pattern and were straightforward. Manual intervention was essential for everything else.

We are now able to make RPA systems resemble humans to some extent due to intelligent bots that are equipped with machine learning capabilities. By integrating these technologies, we will be able to automate tasks dictated by business rules and create instructions for processing inputs.

There are a few areas in the supply chain domain where RPA is ready to transform. Here are a few of the areas where RPA can help.

Supply & Demand Planning

It was not easy for employees to plan supply and demand before automation. They had to gather data, combine it, manage it in a presentation format, analyze exceptions, analyze the plan, and present the plan.

By combining Machine Learning with Artificial Intelligence, RPA in Supply Chain can allow organizations to anticipate demand spikes and be prepared to handle them. Organizations can reduce the chance of manual errors in their supply chains by automating a majority of tasks in order to make operations more efficient, self-driven, and intelligent.

In order to put things in perspective, it is wishful thinking at this point for RPA to automate a supply chain entirely. It is necessary to still have some human involvement in a supply chain since the operations involved in a supply chain include front-end operations, client relationships, and so on.

Order Processing & Payments

An order placement and processing process consists of three phases:

  • Product selection
  • Payment processing
  • Order placement confirmation

Despite the fact that old manual paperwork can be completely digitized, businesses in a wide variety of industries still rely on it to process transactions. Order processing and payments can be automated so that information goes directly into a company's database, payment gateways process the payment, and software solutions send email and text message confirmations when an order is placed. Due to the advent of artificial intelligence, multiple insurance companies now use bots to process claims as well. By automating back-office work, organizations can enable their employees to focus on tasks that require their expertise.

From order placement to delivery, organizations need to make sure these tasks are tightly integrated to maximize productivity and create a smooth supply chain.

Inventory Management Automation

The core of supply chain management is inventory management. Suppliers and manufacturers must always know how much inventory they have and ensure they have enough products and spares on hand to meet customer demands. Inventory management can be made easier with RPA because it keeps an eye on inventory levels, notifies managers when products go low, and automatically reorders products when they fall below a certain level.

By analyzing historical data and sketching out patterns in demand, an RPA system can help predict optimal inventory levels. RPA in Supply Chain would streamline inventory management and always be updated to accommodate spikes in demand.

Insights gained from Robotic Process Automation can improve decision making in Supply Chain when it comes to restocking inventory, thus reducing spare parts at all times, resulting in cost optimization. Employees are able to devote more time to mission critical supply chain areas as they are relieved of the monotonous task of maintaining inventory levels.

Email Automation

Keeping communication with suppliers, manufacturers, transportation service agencies, and customers is a vital aspect of well-maintained supply chains. In spite of the fact that concise and effective communication is a key component of supply chains, it is often the one that needs to be improved the most.

The use of RPA for email communication is essential to ensuring proper collaboration between staff from different departments. In order to communicate when shipments are delivered successfully, stuck midway, delayed or canceled, it is crucial to set up communication processes. To ensure a smooth customer experience, it is essential to maintain effective communication between all parties involved.

Using RPA, emails and text messages can be sent automatically in response to specific events.

Vendor Selection

The vendor selection process is typically a manual one, and RPA aims to change that. Basically, a vendor selection process consists of these steps:

  • Preparing a request for quote
  • Vendor communications and discussions
  • Document analysis
  • Evaluate and cross-check the vendor's credit
  • Vendor finalization

All of these things can get more efficient, productive, and automated with RPA in Supply Chain. If the project is specified, a list of vendors is generated, and face-to-face negotiations are involved, then human intervention is all you need. Once RPA is implemented for an enterprise, humans won't have to intervene in vendor selection except in these cases.

Shipment Status Communication

Customers often ask businesses about shipment status. This was the manual process- an employee would personally open every email, reply to the customer's query by writing down the shipment number, and then look it up in the ERP software to provide the exact shipment details.

However, with RPA in this case, the entire process- including reading the email, understanding the customer's requirements, logging into the ERP system, and communicating the status to the customer- can be automated. Those rare circumstances that are beyond the handling capacity of a robot would require human intervention in such a case.

Challenges in RPA implementation for Supply Chains

Several challenges still remain when it comes to strategizing RPA or implementing it for the first time, according to a Deloitte report.

According to the report, these are the top 5 challenges:

Process Standardization: In every stage of RPA implementation, process standardization is a critical challenge. Complex processes mean higher implementation and operating costs. Although proper documentation exists in many organizations, the processes aren't always well understood, even in those places.

IT Support: A supply chain RPA strategy should include the support and consulting of an IT organization. Involving an IT organization throughout the implementation process is essential and recommended.

Solution Flexibility: At the outset, RPA was regarded as a stagnant automation process. It was believed that robots could only learn once and needed to be taught perfect lessons in order to succeed in the future. It is now possible to add flexibility to all stages of automation thanks to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, though agility remains a challenge.

Stakeholder Expectations: Supply Chain stakeholders have become more open to Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but moving RPA up the priority ladder and keeping disruption to a minimum are significant challenges.

Employee Engagement: In order to scale RPA, organizations must engage their employees and build buy-in to change processes. Enterprises must take steps to ensure that employees accept RPA with minimal resistance, even though things vary across organizations.

In Conclusion

Four elements must be addressed for RPA to be successful in Supply Chain:

  • Automated product movement
  • Data collection sensors for product quality
  • Software systems for cognitive learning
  • Implementation of artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency & flexibility of the process

Putting all these pieces together is tough. But strategizing and planning each step and integrating a transformation mindset into everyone can help. To maximize the benefits and realize the expected ROI of RPA in Supply Chain implementation, enterprises should take an end-to-end approach when working with a digital transformation facilitator organization.

Additionally, digital is not a one-size-fits-all model. Organizations need to find an IT partner that will tailor RPA implementation services to fit their needs, taking into account their present state of affairs and their long-term objectives. As opposed to traditional automation, robotic process automation not only replaces labor but also overhauls everything an organization has built. Service delivery processes may encounter new issues, and entire operations may need reworking for increased productivity and efficiency.

Supply chain and logistics companies are turning to RPA as a cost-effective way of optimizing and cutting costs. Once you've figured out where to incorporate it into your supply chain and logistics operations, it's time to locate a service provider who can assist you.

Questions? Want to know more? Visit our Robotic Process Automation page to learn how Solugenix can help you automate to eliminate errors and high manual process costs.

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