Study: Humans still critical to digital Supply Chains

No one would deny that managing a global supply chain is an increasingly difficult task. Today’s supply chain managers have to contend with significant disruptions—such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, trade tensions, and natural disasters—as well as growing complexity from forces such as omnichannel retailing and increased customization. Many experts believe that to effectively manage this difficult terrain, companies have no choice but to harness the potential of digital technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA).

At Auburn University, we have been studying how companies engage in this process of supply chain digital transformation. Toward this end, we conducted a focus group with 15 industry partners and interviewed an additional six individuals who are actively involved in supply chain digital transformation efforts. Our exploration focused on how these organizations deploy and utilize technology to achieve their transformation goals and how they are integrating technology and human resources to address supply chain challenges. (For more information on our methodology, see the sidebar “About this study” below.)

These experts spoke with us about the lessons learned from their digital transformation efforts while exploring what we see as the final phase of the journey: leveraging digital technologies to change the value proposition for the organization and redesigning processes so that the responsibility for execution lies primarily on technology instead of human workers.

We believe that to achieve this final stage, companies will need to embrace what are known as intelligent workflows or the purposeful planning of interactions between humans and technology. Intelligent workflows are a blending of technology and human workers that offer a comprehensive approach to orchestrating automation, AI, human workers, and system integration across entire business processes. They go beyond the realm of human-led AI and simple automation. They place technology at the center of end-to-end process execution, allowing humans to focus on providing high-value subject matter expertise.

Full story: CSCMP Supply Chain Quarterly