Companies are constantly pursuing technological solutions for their supply-chain challenges. These days, a staggering number of such solutions exist, and the number only seems to be growing exponentially.
“The evolution of technology is happening at such a rapid pace that, unless you’re focused on your industry segment or sector, it’s easy to be engulfed by the tsunami of the fourth industrial revolution,” says Michael Henning, sales manager at Easy Clear, suppliers of holistic software solutions to the customs clearing, freight forwarding and logistics industry.
Henning believes the biggest technological drivers currently are blockchain, the massive growth of last-mile logistics, elastic logistics, and the internet of things (IoT). “IoT is set to transform the sector, with operators able to collect data from various access points to feed into the network, providing real-time data across modalities.”
He acknowledges that it’s diffi cult to match business needs to the available technology, but you can simplify it by focusing on what matters. “The lifeblood of any business is revenue, so how do you increase it? You can cut overheads – the largest of which is staff – but we don’t want to do that in South Africa. Instead, you can look to technology to streamline the business, add additional revenue streams and grow the business by repurposing your human resources and upskilling them to adopt this new technology,” he notes.
“Another way to cut overheads is through adoption of software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solutions. If companies can migrate from a legacy Windows or similar service to SaaS or IaaS, they can get rid of costly infrastructure like servers,” says Henning. This also enables companies to secure what is increasingly becoming one of their most valuable commodities: data.
“As we move into the era of SaaS and IaaS, there’s a much greater emphasis on the protection of data,” explains Henning. “That has been brought sharply into focus by the Protection of Personal Information Act.” Companies must ensure that they have adequate security in the cloud environment to protect client data. “There are a lot of technological enhancements in terms of encryption, backups, access to data and so forth,” he states.
“IF YOU HAVE AI BUILT INTO YOUR SOFTWARE, IT LOOKS FOR PATTERNS IN ALL THAT DATA AND, WITH MACHINE LEARNING, LEARNS TO FIND THESE QUICKLY.” – DOUG HUNTER, SYSPRO
Smarter End-To-End Visibility
Data is key to managing supply chains successfully. It’s essential to have full visibility of the supply chain, this requires collecting and analysing data from multiple sources, explains Doug Hunter, customer and ecosystem enablement manager at enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company SYSPRO. “To get visibility, you need data. You can get data from your existing systems, like broadcasts, supply information and so forth.” Outside of that, he adds, IoT sensors enable logistics managers to collect data about what’s happening to shipments. However, you have to feed the artifi cial intelligence (AI) the right information, stresses Hunter. “If you’re a supply chain manager and you only look at what you can see, you won’t make the right decisions.
You’ve got to expand the source of your data, so your vision is broader.” He adds that analysis through social media is also becoming useful. “You can see what people are saying, gaining insights about the supply chain that you might otherwise miss.” But this raw information needs processing. “The amount of information generated by these sensors, smart devices and systems is too vast for any person to process and make a decision,” says Hunter. That’s where AI comes in. “If you have AI built into your software, it looks for patterns in all that data and, with machine learning, learns to fi nd these quickly.”
“This needs to be robustly integrated with your ERP software, so that the system not only tells you there’s a problem, but also quantifi es the depth of the issue. That’s what we’re looking for in supply chains: this predictive, end-to-end visibility.”
Hunter says that whatever information technologies you choose to embrace, they’ve got to mitigate risk. “Ultimately, you want to reduce the risk of producing, storing or distributing the wrong items because your end consumer has unexpectedly changed their behaviour.”
“THE BIGGEST TECHNOLOGICAL DRIVERS CURRENTLY ARE BLOCKCHAIN, THE MASSIVE GROWTH OF LAST-MILE LOGISTICS, ELASTIC LOGISTICS, AND THE INTERNET OF THINGS.” – MICHAEL HENNING, EASY CLEAR