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How IoT, AI, & Blockchain Empower Tomorrow’s Autonomous Supply Chain

The internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain are having a media moment, especially in the context of the supply chain. For instance, IDC predictsone-third of all manufacturing supply chains will be using analytics-driven cognitive capabilities – a version of AI – by the end of 2020; increasing cost efficiency by 10% and service performance by 5%.

Each of these technologies has the potential to shift global supply chains. Taken together, they have the power to completely revolutionize the process via the first truly ‘autonomous’ supply chain. To understand the combined impact, it’s important to examine each.

Image courtesy: Pixabay

Image courtesy: Pixabay

IoT

Generally speaking, there are three IoT use cases in the supply chain – improving supply chain visibility, automating replenishment processes, and maximizing equipment uptime through predictive maintenance. Manufacturers are investing heavily in IoT and the industry is expected to spend almost $190 billion – with a B – on IoT solutions in 2018.

So how do IoT devices and services help monitor a ‘connected’ shipment? IoT sensors can measure the temperature of frozen or perishable goods as they move across a supply chain, measure the G-force shock levels as fragile goods are moved, and of course, track expensive goods, such as cars, via global positioning systems (GPS) as they are exported to different markets around the world. Monitoring these conditions can help ensure against spoilage, damage, and theft. One thing is for sure, IoT has breathed new life into RFID-based sensors. Billions of sensors have beenin introduced to the supply chain to monitor virtually every aspect of its operation.

With literally billions of new data inputs, companies now face a challenge deciphering the wealth of data to find the insights that help streamline and optimize supply chain operations. This is where big data analytics and, more specifically, AI come in.

AI

Many companies today are just starting to explore the use of analytics, machine learning, and AI across their supply chain.  Common use cases include optimizing inventory management systems and monitoring the performance of trading partner communities. A leading US retailer uses shelf-scanning robots to identify misplaced items, assess stock levels, and monitor pricing and demand on a 24/7. By freeing human employees of these routine picking tasks, the retailer can focus human employees on more valuable and complex tasks. Adoption of AI across the supply chain will bring the ability to improve forecasting; trigger and automate procurement processes; and be more responsive to customer demands.

Applying AI to traditional business to business (B2B) transaction flows can also help refine supply chain processes, but the real value of AI is the ability to ingest and draw insights from supply chain data lakes with a wealth of different structured and unstructured information from across the supply chain. AI platforms combine B2B transactions, logistics data, sensor information, and information from news and social media feeds, with data captured from point of sale systems, historical purchasing information, seasonal holidays, and even weather patterns. The result is the ability to predict sales patterns, identify potential issues in advance, and even make suggestions for dealing with interruptions like severe weather or disaster.

Blockchain

Hype around blockchain is well established, perhaps to an even greater degree than the previous two technologies. Examples, like Amazon, abound. The company recently announced its Amazon Web Services (AWS) partnership with Luxoft to help accelerate blockchain adoption. Gartner also highlighted ‘blockchain in the supply chain’ as part of their technology hype curve in July 2017. Over the past six months, there have been hundreds of different use cases identified for blockchain across the extended enterprise.  The supply chain is no different. 

Image courtesy: Gartner

Image courtesy: Gartner

Knowing the source of raw materials and having the ability to trace materials across the supply chain are critical requirements for today’s procurement teams. Blockchain solutions enable a macro level of traceability to help facilitate situations like a product recall, where businesses and/or government agencies need to quickly determine the original source of raw materials or products. 

How close are we to autonomy?

Tomorrow’s procurement and supply chain operations will be completely transformed by the disruptive technology being introduced today. Together, they will enable an autonomous supply chain – a highly intelligent, connected and self-aware environment working from deeper insights into supply chain performance to refine business processes, improve traceability of goods, and record and secure an archive of all digital interactions between a company and its trading partner community.

In order to explore these new technologies as part of a next-generation supply chain platform, it is important for companies to have a digital foundation in place whereby all information being exchanged with the external eco-system is electronic in nature.A global business network, such as the one operated by OpenText,  can provide such connectivity with a trading partner community and as a result, integrating IoT, blockchain and AI will fold real-time tracking, forecasting, problem solving, and record keeping into one unified system across the supply chain. Technology can bridge the communication gap between manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to bring benefits for all.  

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