Autonomous Supply Chain Planning, It’s Not Science Fiction

Autonomous Supply Chain Planning, It’s Not Science Fiction


I am a big fan of the original Twilight Zone television series which ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964 and remains in syndication to this day. Each episode would start with a combination of eerie music, Rod Sterling’s instantly recognizable monologue narrative, and often strange geometric images on your TV screen all of which quickly catch your attention. Each Twilight Zone episode holds your attention with stories involving people who face unusual, extraordinary and often terrifying circumstances.

Let me set the scene for you. Rod introduces the first scene, “You’re looking at a tableau of reality, things of substance, of physical material: a desk, a window a computer. These things exist and have dimension. Now this is Jim Curtis, age twenty-six, who also is real. He is a supply chain planner for a large manufacturer of packaged food products. In just a moment we will see how thin of a line separates that which is real with that which is possible. You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Jim spends most of his day manipulating data and wishing he had the opportunity to really make a difference for his company. When Jim graduated at the top of his class with a degree in supply chain management he had high hopes, dreams even, of applying his hard earned knowledge to significantly improve his employer’s supply chain capabilities. Now he yearns for the day when the mundane aspects of his job are automated, freeing him to focus on more value-adding activities. Turning in for the night after another repetitive (and rather boring) day, Jim has a vivid dream of the future of supply chain planning. When he awakes the next morning, Jim is unaware that his world has already significantly changed.

Jim arrives at work before the rest of the supply chain planning team to get an early start on his backlog of data manipulation and system parameter maintenance. He is startled to find a clean desk and bookshelf void of the usual stacks of paper printouts. In fact, he is a bit panicked to find the printout he was working on is nowhere to be found. He dreads having to submit a new job to his IT department to print out last month’s shipment data and start from scratch to identify shipment anomalies that led to forecast inaccuracies. In place of the papers, Jim finds a headset connected to his computer. With a sigh, Jim logs-in and slips on the headset. To his surprise his computer says, “Good morning Jim, I have analyzed the latest shipment information and its impact on demand and supply, and have identified the top opportunities for improvement.” Jim nearly falls out of his chair in shock and is tempted to run back to the elevator. He pinches himself to make sure he isn’t still dreaming.

Although Jim is dumbfounded, he decides to play along and responds by saying, “Ah sure, show me the top opportunities for improvement.” The computer responds, “I have identified a supply disruption due to a fire at ABC Packaging that will affect 20% of customers including five of our top ten customers. Would you like to see the best three scenarios for resolving this supply disruption?”  Jim, still in a daze, responds “yes” and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled solution displays the best three scenarios graphically and numerically in both volumetric and financial terms side by side. After partially recovering his senses, Jim evaluates the scenario tradeoffs and determines the best path forward for his company. Jim instructs the computer to select scenario two which involves sourcing the effected materials from an alternate supplier at a slightly higher cost but still providing a positive margin. The autonomous supply chain planning platform executes scenario two and displays the new baseline plan for Jim’s review.

Jim is so mesmerized by the ease of use and power of the intelligence infused supply chain planning platform that he doesn’t notice his teammates arrive at work. When he finally takes a break, he notices that all of his teammates are interacting with this amazing platform in the same manner. The day goes by quickly as Jim solves each supply chain problem that he is responsible for. He wonders what he will do for the rest of his day. He doesn’t ponder that question for long.

Knowing that Jim has completed his assigned activities for today, the system asks him if he would like to analyze longer-term supply chain opportunities and risk scenarios to determine the best responses. The system is constantly analyzing new structured and unstructured data from internal and external sources to uncover opportunities and potential risks in the immediate, mid- and longer-term horizons. Many of these opportunities and risks are automatically responded to where there is a clear cut answer. Where the platform does not possess enough information and ambiguity still exists, the platform engages its human counterpart for assistance. In this case, the autonomous supply chain planning platform has identified roughly a dozen situations that require human input to determine the best response. It is in this moment that Jim is able to finally achieve his dream of using his deep supply chain knowledge to work on value-adding activities that significantly improve his company’s performance.

Jim’s future supply chain planning world seems like something out of a Rod Sterling Twilight Zone episode, but in reality most of the capabilities described here are available today. Of course going from a manual, brute-force process to an autonomous supply chain planning process overnight can only happen in the Twilight Zone. In reality, it takes a well thought-out journey involving incremental improvements in people, process, technology and data capabilities. As with any journey often the hardest part is taking that first step.

Has your company developed their vision and a path to autonomous supply chain operations? If no, Logility and help you successfully take that first step and every subsequent step along your journey.

Hank Canitz
Hank Canitz

Product Marketing Director Hank brings more than 25 years of experience building high performance supply chains. This experience includes evaluating, selecting, implementing, using and marketing supply chain technology. Hank’s graduate degree in SCM from Michigan State, numerous SCM certifications, diverse experience as a supply chain practitioner and experience in senior marketing roles with leading supply chain solution providers helps him to bring a unique perspective on supply chain best practices and supporting technology to the Voyager Blog.

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