Supply chain management (SCM) refers to the process of controlling and monitoring all the processes involved in procuring raw materials, transforming them into finished or semi-finished goods, and delivering their orders to customers. Any SCM system basically consists of a supplier, the managing desk or the SCM team, and the clients or customers, but it gets more complex with more stakeholders on board. As such, RPA or robotic process automation in supply chain becomes a basic need. For a long time, RAP has been looked a burden more than a solution, primarily because it needed human intervention here and there. However, many businesses, including healthcare, fleet management, and manufacturing companies, have adopted RPA in their services and can attest to its benefits. Admittedly, there are a few challenges here and there, but the benefits are more than far-reaching. As such, there is every need for supply chains to adopt RPA in their operations. Why so? What are some areas in the self-driving supply chain that can benefit from implementing robotic process automation in the supply chain? What are some challenges to be expected with RPA implementation in a supply chain? Read this article to get your answers to all these questions.
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Why does RPA seem to be the answer to success in the supply chain?
Many people have wondered why there is so much hype and haze behind RPA implementation for the supply chain. Admittedly, there is every reason why supply chains need to adopt robotic automation. First and foremost, successful implementation of RPA ensures productivity. This is because, with an RPA in the picture, repetitive tasks (not jobs) are done by bots, meaning that you can move manpower to the tasks that must be done by man. As such, the company gets to focus its human resource in other areas that need it. Secondly, there is cost reduction with RPA since the repetitive robotic tasks are done by machines that need maintenance as opposed to salaries.
Furthermore, RPA implementation allows a company to better manage its supply chain inventory. The inventory is at the very top of the supply chain, and it’s at the heart of everything, implying that successfully managing it means life to the company, and the reverse is also true. As such, you cannot run out of stock, nor can you generate goods haphazardly. The RPA systems predict demand and supply accurately (still, there are small margins for errors and anomalies), and the company strives to work with data. As if that’s not enough, the smartest bots can reorder items when you run out of stock. Really, who doesn’t want this kind of top-notch efficiency and seamless operations?
Areas in the supply chain that can benefit from RPA
Several areas of businesses can take advantage of robotic process automation in the supply chain and maximize operations. They include but are not limited to;
- Email automation
Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, etc., are some of the emailing services we benefit from. Every other day, emailing companies are developing them to give users the best experiences. Apart from emails giving you suggestions on how to respond to inboxes and reminding you of unread messages, they now allow a user to form a group so that one email can be sent to several people simultaneously. RPA in the supply chain can automate emails such that when a certain command is executed, an email is sent to every other person in the department. For instance, the driver can click on ‘accident’ on the shipping app while shipping an item, which should automatically send emails to the delivery department.
2. Tracking orders on shipment
Many companies, especially retail and manufacturing, are now using tracking systems to know the live locations of items on transit. This is possible, courtesy of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, Electronic Processing Code Information System (EPCIS), and other visibility systems. Supply chains can follow suit to help companies and clients know how far orders are from delivery and any challenges that might have occurred.
3. Order processing and payment making
Although many companies are embracing automation and are upgrading to artificial intelligence and machine learning to handle order processing and payment-making tasks, many others still rely on manual systems and paperwork. Some supply chains are automating their processes and use software solutions to select items, process an order, pay for it, and confirm delivery. Imagine doing all that from any area of your comfort and having everything delivered right to your doorstep; it is satisfying, isn’t it?
4. Managing inventory systems
While there are multiple stakeholders within a supply chain, the inventory is right at the top of the chain, and the success of every other thing depends on it. For instance, the processing department looks up to the inventory system to know how much should be produced based on the demand and what’s almost out of stock. The same is true for the supplier who needs information from the inventory managers to know when next to supply raw materials. Did you know that a supply chain can automate its inventory system so that when the stock goes below a set threshold, the information is sent to every other person in the chain, resulting in seamless operations? It can also send reminders to the managers about which orders need to be delivered on specific days, bills, credits, etc.
What challenges come with implementing robotic process automation in the supply chain?
Admittedly, implementing RPA in the supply chain comes with special benefits not guaranteed by any other system. Still, on the flipside, robotic automation has its unique challenges any supply chain needs to know about before throwing itself head-front. Such challenges include;
- RPA is fairly new in SCM, meaning that anomalies and a few errors will occur from time to time
- Having an RPA system doesn’t necessarily mean that you are replacing your entire human resource; the system will need human intervention from time to time
- It can take quite some time before you standardize your brand with RPA, meaning that patience is key to avoiding crashes
- RPA implementation calls for agility and flexibility since what’s true today might not hold tomorrow in the business world
- Implementing RPA successfully requires IT support, so a supply chain must prepare financially
Robotic process automatic in the supply chain can work to the best advantage of a supply chain. Email automation, inventory management, shipment tracking, and order processing and payment making are some of the key areas that can benefit from RPA. Nonetheless, RPA implementation in SCM has its unique challenges, including the need for IT support, standardization issues, the need for human intervention from time to time, and the agility and flexibility prerequisites. As such, a supply chain trying to implement it must prepare for these challenges.