Autonomous Supply Chain Planning

Your Next Stop, The Twilight Zone!

I am a big fan of the original Twilight Zone television series, hosted by Rod Sterling. This original series, filmed in black & white, ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964 and remains in syndication to this day. The series episodes 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. This is the opening monologue for the 1st season, “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!”

Rod would introduce the first scene of each episode with something like, “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 mid-sized manufacturer of packaged food products. But in just a moment we will see how thin a line separates that which is real from that which is possible.”

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 from a leading business school with a degree in supply chain management he had high hopes, dreams even, of applying his hard earned knowledge to significantly improve his employers supply chain capabilities. He dreams of a 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 a rather boring and tedious 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 see that someone had cleaned off his desk and bookshelf of most of his 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 over identifying shipment anomalies that will lead to forecast inaccuracies. Jim also notices that someone has given him a computer headset. With a sigh, Jim logs into his computer 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 and is tempted to run back to the elevator. He thinks maybe he is still dreaming, and pinches himself to wake up.

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 5 of our top 10 customers, would you like to see the best 3 scenarios for resolving this supply disruption?” Jim responds he does, and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled solution displays the best 3 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 2 which involves sourcing the effected materials from an alternate supplier at a bit higher cost but still providing a positive margin. The autonomous supply chain planning platform executes scenario 2 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 his teammates are all interacting in the same manner with this amazing supply chain planning platform. Time flies and Jim solves all the near-term supply chain problems that he is responsible for. He wonders what he will do for the rest of his day. He doesn’t have to ponder that question for long.

Knowing that Jim has completed his assigned activities for today the autonomous supply chain planning system asks Jim if he would like to analyze longer-term supply chain opportunities and risk scenarios to determine the best responses. The autonomous supply chain planning system is constantly analyzing new structured and unstructured data from internal and external sources to uncover opportunities and potential risks in the immediate, mid-term, 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 exists, the platform engages its human counterpart for assistance. In this case, the autonomous supply chain planning platform has identified a dozen or so situations that require “human” input to determine the best response. This is where Jim can finally achieve his dream of using his deep supply chain knowledge to work on value-adding activities that significantly improve his company’s top and bottom lines.

Jim’s future supply chain planning world seems like something out of a Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone episode but in reality the type of capabilities described in this post are already commercially available or will be in a few short years. Of course going from a manual, brute-force to an autonomous supply chain planning process overnight can only happen in the Twilight Zone. In the real world, it takes a well-thought-out journey involving incremental improvements in people, process, technology, and data. As with any journey often the hardest parts are setting a destination and taking that first step. Has your company developed their vision and a path to autonomous supply chain operations? Logility can help by working with you to develop your vision and path to autonomous supply chain operations and with taking every step along your journey.

Henry Canitz

Written by

Henry Canitz

Short bio

Hank is a former Logility employee and blog contributor. Supply Chain Brief

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