Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a fictional element or a science of the distant future wherein robots and humanoids rule our world; it is here and enabling revolutionary transformations across industries.
The supply chain industry, experts believe, will benefit massively from this AI-led transformation. The industry is already leveraging AI-enabled technology to drive higher revenues and achieve improved efficiency. In India, it is expected that this transformation will see the industry valuation double in the next 2 years.
The supply chain, involving a highly interconnected and interdependent set of tasks, is a trade where even minor errors have multiplier effects on costs, revenues and business outcomes. AI, powered with Machine Learning (ML), predictive analytics, automation and so on, has the ability to process the voluminous supply chain data from disparate sources and equip business leaders with actionable insights and forecasts in real-time. Such insights enable quick decision-making and real-time change adaptation to streamline/ reinvent functions and processes, minimize leakages and losses and develop a strong strategic edge.
The AI-powered solutions enable organizations to gain exceptional agility, precision, effectiveness, efficiency and end-to-end visibility in the supply chain if the right models and solutions are identified and applied.
AI-enabled supply chain transformation: Where are we?
Globally, there are diverse, cutting-edge innovations in the application of AI in the supply chain. Some of the path-breaking AI-enabled transformations include:
Contextual intelligence provided by technology such as Intelligent Robotic Sorting, AI-powered Visual Inspection, etc. which are transforming warehouse management, shipping, tracking, logistics, packaging and so on.
Supervised learning, unsupervised learning and reinforcement learning technologies are facilitating real-time decision-making, enhanced fraud detection, predictive insights, etc.
AI-led automation in the form of self-driving forklifts, automated sorting, self-managing intelligent inventory systems, autonomous/ driverless ground vehicles, etc. are revolutionizing warehousing, logistics, distribution, inventory management, etc.
Intelligent software solutions are enabling better supplier selection, product design, audits, evaluations, production planning, B2B sourcing, etc.
One of the leading innovators bringing sophistication and next-gen models in the supply chain space at the global level is Amazon. This e-commerce giant has revolutionized its business models, transformed customer experiences, forecasted demand with greater precision continuously reduced the delivery time and reigned supreme in e-commerce owing to its extensive use of technology including AI, ML, automation and IoT among others.
In India and across the globe, supply chain startups have been playing a key role in revolutionizing the space with their AI-led innovations, cutting-edge solutions and next-gen models. Some notable Indian supply chain startups that are consistently raising investments from Indian and global investors for their revolutionary solutions are:
Delhivery : Offers technology-driven logistics services such as last-mile delivery, third-party and transit warehousing, reverse logistics, shipping, etc.
Fareye : Offers an automation software and mobile platform to uncomplicate last-mile delivery issues.
Rivigo, Trukky.com, LogiNext, Blackbuck, 4tigo, etc.: Offer smart logistics solutions including trucking, tuck hiring, real-time tracking, delivery planning, etc. to B2B and B2C customers.
Shipsy and FourKites : offer predictive supply chain platforms to ensure real-time visibility to their B2B clients.
There is growing awareness amongst organizations about the criticality of intelligent and efficient supply chain management and optimization to their overall business outcomes and long-term sustainability. Despite this realization, studies show that only 30-40% of Indian businesses are leveraging AI-enabled tech solutions in their supply chain activities while others still use traditional, linear models. Two main causes are – their lack of talent and resources for in-house innovations and their lack of awareness of grassroots innovations by startups.
Successful Corporate-Startup Collaboration: How Locus enabled Blue Dart to minimize last-mile inefficiencies?
The logistics giant, Blue Dart, faced a big challenge – the manual sorting of packages was inefficient and time-consuming, especially during peak times and when time-bound deliveries were required. As a company that strives to optimize operational efficiencies, Blue Dart partnered with Locus (a supply chain startup) to deploy its proprietary, automated shipment sorting and rider allocation solution – IntelliSort. This smart solution immensely reduced the time spent on sorting and enabled the company to send shipments out faster. The savings on manual drudgery and the increased accuracy in route mapping translated into higher cost-savings and better outcomes for Blue Dart.
The way forward
The above case study highlights how immensely corporates benefit when they collaborate with startups that offer cutting-edge, next-gen, intelligent solutions. Such collaborations will be the way forward for improved efficiency and transformative business results. Certain sub-segments like e-commerce logistics, 3PL, trucking, etc. are popular and heavily funded while other, equally critical sub-segments such 4PL, warehousing, maritime logistics, etc. with revolutionary AI-enabled innovations are severely underfunded. It is important to bridge these gaps if the supply chain industry is to forge ahead.