The supply chains for electronics businesses are complex, complicated ecosystems with a lot of moving parts, different players up and down the line, and a spate of documents running back and forth between them. The smallest cough or hiccup at any point can send ripples through the process, causing disruptions that can lead to errors in product shipments or payments, a slowdown in deliveries, missed deadlines and, in the end, unhappy customers.
Manual processes that are common in supply chain management add to the challenges, increasing the likelihood of errors, slowing down the many steps within the supply chain process, driving up costs and forcing workers to perform mundane, repetitive tasks. They waste valuable time that could be better spent focusing on customer needs and ensuring that orders are being fulfilled correctly and as efficiently as possible.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) assist with predictive analytics, accurate forecasting, and better decision-making. Digital solutions also help businesses meet the growing demand for speed. At a time of instant communication and cloud-based apps, where products are available at the click of a button, customers no longer want to wait. If they have to wait too long for a supplier, they’ll find another one.
Business process automation solutions will be critical for supply chains going forward. Gartner pointed to robotic process automation (RPA) as one of eight key supply chain technology trends for 2018, saying the technology will enable supply chain leaders to reduce costs, eliminate keying errors, accelerate processes and link applications. Organizations are taking notice. One survey found that in 2014, the number of companies not looking at supply chain automation was as high as 40%. However, that number was forecast to drop to 17% by the end of this year. Business process automation is becoming a staple of the supply chain.
Automation solutions essentially streamline supply chain operations, making them more efficient, faster, and less costly. Here are just some of the ways business process automation helps:
- Reducing errors: Manual processes mean more human touches, which increases the chances of errors being made. Automation solutions and technologies like RPA and machine learning limit the number of manual touchpoints, reducing the potential for errors that can slow down the supply chain processes and lead to delays in product delivery.
- Reducing costs: Supply chains are becoming more complex and expensive. With process automation, processes are streamlined, so costs associated with everything from supplies to reshipping or restocking fees to time wasted on mundane tasks can be reduced.
- Handling EDI exceptions: EDI for years has been a boon for organizations, helping to bring greater digitization to back-office processes. However, there are multiple points in the EDI process where errors and exceptions can occur, throwing roadblocks into the supply chain. These exceptions often require manual intervention. With automation, businesses can handle EDI exceptions in a zero-touch fashion.
- Reducing IT involvement: Addressing EDI exceptions have typically involved both customer service representatives (CSRs) and IT, essentially using two people to solve a single problem. With automation solutions, IT doesn’t need to be involved, saving both time and money.
- Increasing visibility: Business process automation gives all stakeholders in the electronics supply chain – vendors, suppliers, partners and customers – greater visibility into the system. In addition, the increasing use of data analytics gives decision-makers more insights to help improve business processes.
- Improving customer experience: Customer service representatives (CSR), freed from time-consuming tasks, can work more closely with customers. Disputes are resolved more quickly, and, as noted by McKinsey, through the automation tools, supply chain managers get greater control and can give customers greater visibility into the status of their orders. Satisfied customers are less likely to look for new partners, and Forrester has found that improving the customer experience from below- to above-average can mean as much as $80 million in additional revenue for business’ with a mid-sized customer base.
Supply chains in the electronics industry are seeking ways to become more efficient and drive down the cost of sales. Manual processes hinder progress, opening them up to errors. Advancements gained with automation allow businesses to accelerate operations, save money and improve the experience of their customers.