Boosting Supply Chain Resiliency with Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

Boosting Supply Chain Resiliency

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are considering digital transformation as the key to ensuring supply chain resilience. Evolutions in technologies have enabled the creation of digital supply networks that can be used by companies to strengthen their procurement strategy. With new and emerging digital solutions involving artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics, companies now can harness their data to optimize inventory more effectively than ever before.

Even as the pandemic is receding, supply chain disruptions continue to be commonplace, and chief supply chain officers are under growing pressure to use and analyze real-time data to mitigate risk. According to a recent Forbes article, “43% of enterprises will continue to digitalize and integrate innovative technology into enterprise-wide systems. This means that in the coming year, the ability to augment operations and decision-making with data analytics will continue to be a transformative and highly favored capability.”

Forbes reports that implementing new data analytics capabilities is best considered as a series of digital initiatives, for which there are many options. For instance, the introduction of the metaverse is one solution that will greatly increase a company’s ability to deliver predictive insights across supply chain networks, enabling it to “reduce development times and risk, achieve higher operational efficiency, and improve resilience.”

Ensuring Continuity Throughout Disruptions

Companies are using analytics and AI to mitigate risk and ensure continuity throughout any global supply chain disruptions. These powerful tools help businesses automate tasks in a way they never could before, while gaining deeper insights for better, faster decision-making, according to Supply Chain magazine.

Supply Chain reports that digital twin technology is currently considered one of the most innovative uses of AI and data analytics in supply chains. A digital twin provides a virtual supply chain replica that enables scenario modeling to simulate the impact of disruptions, like market changes and natural disasters, allowing companies to determine how resilient their supply chain is. AI modeling also proactively identifies supply risk, such as a supplier’s inability to source needed materials, before it can become a problem.

Deloitte experts agree that “with improvements in data, analytics, computing power, and visualization, digital procurement has better evidence-based options for decision-making, which can improve both the value and accuracy of strategic decisions and the speed of execution.”

New disruptive digital supply chain technologies are altering the procurement function for the better. Deloitte recommends that procurement leaders invest in both:

  • Maturing digital solutions that are currently transforming procurement with minimal investment, such as cognitive computing/artificial intelligence, predictive/advanced analytics, intelligent content extraction, visualization, and crowdsourcing
  • Emerging digital solutions that could impact procurement in the future, such as block chain, sensors/wearables, cyber tracking, and virtual reality/spatial analytics

In the face of continuing disruption, companies must adapt to ensure supply chain resilience. Digital transformation is an incremental, multi-year journey. If your company has not yet created a digital procurement strategy and started this process, now is the time to consider the many AI and data analytics options available on the path to intelligent supply chain management.

The Supply Chain Connection with ESG Performance

The Supply Chain Connection with ESG Performance

Sustainability is a critical issue for many businesses, fueled by growing internal and external pressure to measure and strengthen environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. As companies seek to improve their ESG performance, supply chain management is also under scrutiny.

ESG issues relate to the supply chain in many ways. For example, companies are vulnerable to risk from the actions of their suppliers involving issues that include child labor, employee safety, and corruption and bribery. Supplier problems in those areas can create reputational damage for companies and even subject them to compliance and legal risks.

The environmental component of ESG is particularly relevant to the supply chain, which typically includes carbon-heavy activities such as transportation and production. The supply chain may drive as much as 90% of a company’s total carbon impact on the environment, according to the EPA. So there’s a lot of room for sustainability-related improvement in supply chains. This is driving a greater focus on companies’ so-called “Scope 3” emissions—those created externally, by other companies outside of the organization. 

But it’s important to recognize that sustainability is no longer just a corporate-responsibility or compliance issue. It’s also a good business practice.

A Window into ESG Vulnerabilities

The key reason why sustainability has become more important to business is because it’s under scrutiny by a growing range of stakeholders. Studies show that U.S. consumers prefer sustainable brands and products, and employees are increasingly likely to say they would prefer to work at companies with strong environmental and social agendas. Institutional investors are also on board, and by 2025, some $53 trillion—about one-third of the dollars under professional management globally—is expected to be in ESG funds, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Altogether, this means that sustainability is now playing a big role in meeting customer expectations, attracting and retaining employees, and accessing capital. Improving supply chain sustainability can help ensure that a company finds favor with these stakeholders.

But greater sustainability can also help improve supply chains because it goes hand-in-hand with reduced risk and increased efficiency. Sustainability and efforts to cut carbon emissions typically mean using less raw material, reducing energy and water consumption, and cutting the amount of waste that needs to be processed — actions that help reduce costs and accelerate operations. Tracking ESG data also provides a better window into potential vulnerabilities in the supply chain. And companies that put efforts into supply chain sustainability are likely to find it easier to forge relationships with quality partners who are looking to improve their own supply chain ESG performance.

“Supply chain agility and resilience are inseparable from the drive for sustainability,” a recent report from The Conference Board noted. “Building sustainable practices into supply chains has direct business benefits. It helps companies manage business risks, achieve cost savings through material efficiency gains, enhance brand reputation, create growth opportunities, and manage suppliers more effectively. Harmful environmental practices and inhumane working conditions not only pose reputational risk but also direct disruption risk.”

In the end, supply chain sustainability should not be seen as a burden or peripheral issue. Instead, it’s fast becoming something that is central to sound supply chain management. And it is another area where the supply chain can make a big contribution to competitiveness—and to the health of the planet.

Avoiding Supply Chain Imbalance Through Collaboration

Avoiding Supply Chain Imbalance Through Collaboration

When we think of supply chain disruptions, we usually only consider the shortages that became familiar during the pandemic—back-ordered or unavailable parts, empty store shelves, long delays in shipping and fulfillment. But it seems that many companies are now experiencing the opposite, in the form of significant excess inventory.

This problem is having an impact in a variety of industries, with overall manufacturer and trade inventories in June being up 18.5% compared to the previous year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Every company is different, but many appear to be experiencing inventory imbalances driven by abrupt changes in either supply or demand, or both. Managing inventory is always challenging, but the volatility of the past two years has made it especially difficult. As supplies ran short during the pandemic, many companies boosted orders to build buffer stocks. Now, with demand subsiding somewhat—or shifting to different products—some of those companies are left with too much inventory. This can lead to excessive amounts of capital being tied up in goods, along with other carrying costs for things such as storage space and insurance. And for companies focused on innovation, excess inventory increases the potential for product obsolescence, as components sit on shelves waiting to be used. 

Taming Supply Imbalance

What can companies do to reduce inventory imbalances in the future? There is no simple answer, but they can take steps such as tightening their inventory-accounting practices to gain a more timely, detailed view of the materials they and their suppliers have on hand. This can help them understand how well inventory is aligned with demand. Additionally, they can change their ordering patterns to focus on smaller, more frequent purchases; making it easier to respond quickly to changes in demand. They can also conduct assessments that proactively identify potential risks in the upstream supply chain.

More broadly, companies can re-examine just-in-time practices and look for ways to use targeted, carefully managed buffer inventory to reduce their vulnerability to shortages. Or they can consider structural changes to the supply network, including reshoring to reduce reliance on long global supply chains and bringing more suppliers into the mix to expand sourcing options.

Looking forward, effectively managing inventory imbalances in an era of “disruption as normal” will require increased visibility across larger portions of the supply chain. Here, companies can consider technologies ranging from EDI to supplier portals and cloud-based supply-chain platforms that let partners work together to understand supply and demand to optimize inventory levels.

In the end, however, the best tool for avoiding inventory imbalances will be relationships that allow partners up and down the supply chain to communicate and collaborate to identify imbalances early on. For many, this will call for new ways of working with partners to share information about risks and disruptions in production and logistics; about the design of new products; about products reaching the end of their lifecycle; and about changes in end-customer demand.

To a great extent, inventory imbalances are the result of uncertainty. Strong relationships that foster greater information-sharing will be key to cutting through that uncertainty to keep inventories at levels that will meet the needs of companies and customers alike.