Artificial Intelligence is all the buzz in supply chain these days.  And why not? There are a lot of exciting use cases.  We covered some of this in an earlier post. Still, part of the story is the unexpected implications for the supply chain.

Automation is a natural option for logistics firms to keep pace with demand for faster shipments. Robots and other forms of AI work alongside human workers to speed transactions.  Example: the picker who doesn’t need to walk through the warehouse because the shelf came to him.  VDC Research recently published insights on this in “Man vs. Machine: Rethinking Supply Chain Workflows with Collaborative Robots”.

This change is significant, and it will bring with it some other things to consider – Talent, Training, Telemetry, and Time are a few that come to mind:

Talent: The day-to-day tasks of your workers will change. Sure, they adapt, but new skills will come in to play.  They’re going to be interacting with computers on a scale that many people only can relate to in sci-fi movies.  At the same time, the growing field of study focused on supply chain management will offer opportunity for new hires.  These workers will escort this new age of AI through your loading dock.

Training: There are workers you’ll want to reassign to other tasks, and new roles created in your operations team.  Both have a common name: QA.  If robots are doing the picking, there’s going to need to be an element of human oversight to ensure order accuracy.  Then there’s the computer science element of QA needed to make sure the robotic workflows are fully tested.  Bugs in the AI could be a significant disruption to your business. Testing and training the AI to be more accurate (and able to handle unpredictable exceptions) will be important.

Telemetry: Greater visibility is expected, of course. But the data reported by AI will offer even more detailed optics.  Because all AI can talk to systems and each other, simultaneously, more data will be available to make instant decisions.  Consider these systems calculating the fastest route to navigate your warehouse, while predicting where other AI components are going to be.  A self-driving forklift won’t go down aisle 31, for example, because it knows another lift will beat it there and it won’t be able to get past. Instead, it will turn down aisle 30 and enter aisle 31 from the other end…and it will know this from the time it completes its picking task in aisle 10.

Time: Timing is the element we in the supply chain are always worrying about. It’s making that quick decision to prioritize an order, so it makes it onto a truck that’s about to go. It’s also about workers having the time to focus on tasks that add more value. That can be exciting for your talent, inspiring them to learn and do more. Clearing the repetitive tasks from their schedule could just be the opportunity they’ve been looking for.