3 Technologies You Should be Using to Automate Your Supply Chain

By Dave Wood

Automation has impacted nearly every industry by providing critical optimizations to complex workflows. Advancements in technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and Blockchain have played a pivotal role in driving proficiency across the globe. With so many disparate parts making up the supply chain, the logistics sector is well poised to be able to capitalize on the implementation of these technologies to exploit the benefits of automation.

Benefits of Automated Supply Chain and Logistics Processes

Critically important advancements can be made by automating all or parts of the supply chain to give manufacturers, retailers, and logistics companies much-needed visibility that leads to enhanced productivity. Below are some of the ways that automated technologies can aid in accelerating the rate at which products and materials move from suppliers to consumers while reducing logistics expenses and increasing overall profits.

Inventory Management

Supply chain and logistics automation provides companies with better inventory management to ensure accurate stock syncing that leads to improved visibility and enables practical quantity adjustments. Inventory management costs can be lowered significantly through the automation of tasks that are traditionally completed manually to:

  • Generate documents for orders, shipping, and invoicing through auto-population.
  • Decrease human-error associated with manual data entry.
  • Speed up orders to suppliers with enabled real-time communication.

Automated integrations that are crucial for increased visibility within the inventory management process permit greater overall asset control that leads to enhanced perceptions of businesses’ reliability. With the ability to quickly gather and syndicate data, customers’ needs can be met prudently to increase a businesses’ longevity and ability to succeed in a highly competitive market.

Warehouse Management

Warehouse management is another area where supply chains and logistics companies can benefit from automation. They can be sure that warehouses are stocked with a product mix that is appropriate for the region it is located in, reducing the number of shipments to a given warehouse which cuts down on fuel, transportation, and shipping costs.

Warehouse Management System (WMS) that incorporate automated technologies can also aid with:

  • Saving on costs associated with document processing.
  • Securing the exchange of data between systems and partners.
  • Streamlining processes such as invoicing, order supply form submission, stocks, sales, and ledgers.

Within the warehouses, automation integrated into supply chain and logistics management systems can intelligently balance capacity against resources and improve overall warehouse operations. Scannable technologies such as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) and Quick Response (QR) codes can also lend to the ease at which companies can track the progress and movement of assets within and out of warehouses.

Order Processing and Fulfillment

Whether engaging in direct-to-consumer (D2C) or business-to-business (B2B) order processing and fulfillment, modernization through automation can grant a company the ability to meet shipping and order fulfillment objectives with greater ease. As automation makes businesses operate faster regarding order processing and fulfillment, customers’ needs have changed to require a higher level of service at every point in the ordering of products, goods, and services.

The ability to quickly process and fulfill orders directly leads to enhanced customer experience via expedient order validation, shipping, or return processes. The shorter amount of time a customer waits for verifying information or the delivery of a product, the better the customer experience is in the end.

Shipping

The merits of automation also directly affect supply chain and logistics company’s shipping. Traditional silos and gaps in shipping are resolved through the ability to possess more visibility regarding order processing throughout the supply chain.

The optimization of shipping automation enables a company to identify the most efficient methods of generating documentation for various shipment sizes from small parcels to bulk orders. Custom automated software integration guarantees that a supply chain and logistics company is able to:

  • Auto-generate of Bill of Lading (BoL).
  • Coordinate flow of data for shipping manifests, statuses, invoices, and remittances.
  • Produce Electronic Proof of Delivery (EPD) for partners and clients.

Existing Freight Broker Software can also be integrated with data from major shipping providers such as FedEx, UPS, DHL, or USPS to make deliberate choices based on cost, transit time, and insurance.

3 Technologies Improving Supply Chain Management and Logistics

Electronic Data Interchange, Robotic Process Automation, and Blockchains are all positively disrupting how manufacturers, retailers, and logistics companies are able to operate to increase productivity and profitability. While there are many technologies that automate processes within supply chain management and logistics, the following three are particularly useful for the integration and syndication of intra/inter-company data resulting in the streamlining of workflows.

Electronic Data Interchange

The development of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) integrated into a company’s existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and back-office platforms enables the secure exchange of data from and to different systems while eliminating the exchange of paper documents to enable core business functions such as inventory and distribution management, production, and accounting. Transactions can be seamlessly coordinated between software systems operated by different entities in the supply chain from manufacturer to shipper to retailer.

Custom software developed to facilitate the complex workflows of data is essential for supply chain and logistics companies to be able to take advantage of the benefits of EDI. Information traditionally exchanged between trading partners through paper invoices, orders, commission sales reports, and price catalogs can instead be interchanged electronically through EDI to:

  • Cut down on processing time to speed up business cycles through streamlined communication between business partners via the translation of internal data into EDI files that enable trading partners’ software systems to communicate.
  • Lower operational costs by eliminating the purchasing, printing, processing, and delivery of paper documents for internal and external communications.
  • Reduce human errors, improve record accuracy, and seamlessly coordinate transactions through the stages of fulfillment between customers, warehouses, shippers, 3PLs, and business partners.

All stages of fulfillment between business partners can be coordinated with EDI software which adheres to prominent standards of reliability which include ANSI, ASC, X12, EDIFACT, and TRADACOMS. Highly specific codes of communication, through these standards, are able to be utilized to enable the exchange of data between entities without compromising data integrity.

Robotic Process Automation

Through the use of bots that can imitate simple human behavior, high volume repetitive tasks, such as addressing queries, making calculations, maintaining records, and performing transactions can be executed automatically by the integration of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in supply chain and logistics management.

With this cost-effective and high-functioning tool, bots are able to guarantee high quality, consistent, and error-free output that reduces operational risks and increases demand adaptation, allowing a business to scale up operations at a faster rate. RPA can automate time-consuming, core process-related tasks through the programming of intelligent data capture functions including Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Barcode Recognition (BCR), Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR), Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), and complex screen scraping capabilities using FMiner in order to:

  • Update and organize contract data to manage suppliers through screen scraping automation that provides 100% accuracy.
  • Use rule-based extraction technology algorithms to automatically extract important data from anywhere on a document and populate a database or downstream application with mission-critical data including dates, names, invoices, account numbers, and totals.
  • Employ personalized web automation to process dense web demands including form filling, screen scraping, data extraction, data transfer between applications, website testing, and periodical report generation to automate repetitive tedious tasks.
  • Apply recorder automation capable of automating tasks by recording mouse and keyboard actions, data entry on web forms, and data extraction.
  • Exercise intelligent document recognition software to identify classes of documents, as well as fields to be extracted from custom modeled template structures.
  • Deploy rule-based extraction technology algorithms to automatically extract important data from anywhere on a document and populate a database or downstream application.

Software built using custom solutions or tools such as Blue Prism, UiPath, and Automation Anywhere uses structured data and predefined rules and perimeters to accomplish the aforementioned tasks and interpret information in order to respond accordingly. This allows for employees to avoid having to complete redundant manual input to focus on tasks which only humans can complete.

Blockchain

Originally developed to stop double-spending through the prevention of duplication or falsification of digital cash or tokens, blockchain technology is being repurposed to aid companies in any part of the supply chain and the logistics sector. Transparent and tamperproof histories of information, inventory, and financial flows that this automated technology is able to provide transform how businesses conduct transactions globally. Supply chain and logistics companies can capitalize on the benefits of blockchains to:

  • Digitize and secure physical assets in order to enable more transparent and accurate end-to-end tracking from production to delivery to consumers.
  • Ensure product authentication, execute secure payment transactions, and enhance data capabilities through the implementation of valuable features that process cryptocurrency payments, enable chain-of-custody data access, and perform cost reduction transactions.
  • Enable trading of blockchain tokens and multiple cryptocurrencies, auto-generate private and public keys, and participate in Initial Coin Offerings (ICO), Security Token Offerings (STO), and Digital Security Offerings (DSO).
  • Enhance security, control expenses, monitor product provenance, and flag inefficiencies within workflows using counterfeit detection software, document digitization and automation, and digital certification and logistics tracking.

Custom blockchain software that leverages third-party blockchain platform APIs can allow companies to benefit from added scalability, flexibility, and enhanced security. Security software, executed through or integrated with components of blockchain, is able to identify and address fundamental elements of cross-industry standards for shared and distributed ledgers to streamline secure processes within the supply chain.

Automate Your Supply Chain

With custom supply chain management software that integrates a company’s existing SCM with automated management systems and APIs, a business can experience better inventory and warehouse management, enhanced shipping, and streamlined order processing and fulfillment.

Automation is the cornerstone of how our advanced technological era is benefiting a multitude of industries. And within supply chain and logistics, the advantages of these feats of modern technology have tangible and highly valuable results that companies can make the most of to reduce logistics expenses, increase overall profits, boost visibility, and enhance overall productivity.

About the Author

Dave Wood is an industry expert within the supply chain and logistics technology landscape. He has worked at Chetu since 2013 and has since built a reputation as a thought-leader within the IT community. As the Director of Global Sales at Chetu, Dave plays a critical role in assisting companies with their supply chain, retail, marketing, and media related software projects. He offers commentary on changing tides within logistics and how inventory and warehouse management systems can propel all facets of retail and supply.

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