Finding new ways to boost supply chain management efficiency is more critical than it’s ever been. Robotic process automation — or RPA — is one technology that may help.
RPA can improve supply chain management and logistics by automating repetitive time-consuming tasks such as data entry, while improving workflow.
RPA uses automated software robots – or bots – to extract data from one application and paste it into another.
The RPA technique is not as sophisticated or fast as some other integration techniques, but it can be easy to implement. It can also facilitate complementary technologies.
“In most cases, RPA is being used in conjunction with other digital levers, such as IoT, intelligent document processing, chatbots, mobile applications, and even rework workflows to solve blockchains and other critical business challenges.
Adding to, ”said Shirley Hung, vice president. Everest Group, a management consulting and research firm in Dallas.
Here are seven ways companies are weaving RPAs into logistics and supply chain workflows.
7 use cases for RPA in supply chain and logistics
1. Data entry automation
Deficiency of integration is an essential problem for virtually every company involved in transport products, and RPA applications can help close a few of the gaps.
Just take the instance of outsourced logistics support supplier AM Transport.
The organization had assembled two out infrastructures: one along with Boomi, a Dell Technologies company, for linking EDI integrations involving its clients and a single inner program infrastructure on Salesforce, Google and AWS, stated Jason Doris, CTO of AM Transport.
Immediate API integrations can manage several workflows, but there have been openings that needed manual data entry in a continuous basis, ” he explained.
Doris’ team employed Boomi Flow, an RPA assistance, to remove repetitive tasks from data entry and EDI, and also to enlarge workflow to different locations.
“If a single string of events occurs, I will automatically contact clients, notify bookkeeping and submit [bills of lading],” Doris said. “Formerly, I’d have had to do all those jobs manually and separately.”
2. Predictive maintenance
Maintaining equipment is an important aspect of supply chain management, and RPA – working with other technologies – can help facilitate predictive maintenance efforts.
As an example, in an oil and gas manufacturing plant, IoT-based predictive maintenance can identify corrosion and pipeline damage, Hung said. These IoT applications then use sensors installed in the pipeline to obtain potential data for hydrogen and gaseous materials.
Applications receive sensor data in real-time and broadcast it to the cloud for evaluation, analysis and prediction.
RPA Bots acted on this information by automating the scheduling maintenance process, informing affected customers, and updating financial plans. This eliminates delays that are commonly attributed to manual labor, improves response time, reduces employee effort and increases operational efficiency.
Also read: All You need to know About Logistics Technology Trends in 2020
3. Logistics Management
RPA can bring efficiency to the delivery phase of the supply chain.
In these cases, the RPA monitors bot orders and updates the order handover details of all related systems, Hung said. They can also work with AI-based intelligent routing systems that coordinate between several logistics partners, such as road freight, cargo ship, and air freight.
Bots are able to automatically assign delivery partners based on the location of products.
He said that the RPA bot can generate information for customers that, if delayed, can enhance the customer experience with practice and real-time order updates. In short, technology improves error handling.
RPA is particularly useful in managing cross-border shipments, which may require various additional customs, storage and inspection procedures that need to be coordinated.
4. After sales service
An after-sale is becoming increasingly important, and RPA can work with many other technologies to improve that aspect of supply chain management.
For example, when a customer makes a service request using a mobile app, an intelligent virtual assistant or chatbot can interact with customers and then make requests to the system, Hung said.
Intelligent document processing applications can read data from various service request document formats and then coordinate with the RPA bot to capture and retain service ticket data.
If a customer needs to make a return, a mobile app location for third-party servicing and reverse logistics partners to complete the work in case of repair can improve visibility on arrival time and time. RPA bots can track orders in real-time and automatically send acknowledgment emails to customers.
Digitally enabled processes reduce staff efforts and time spent in back-end processes, freeing up time to engage with disgruntled customers.
“Digitally enabled processes reduce employee efforts and time spent in back-end processes, freeing up time to engage with disgruntled customers,” Hung said.
5. Initiate Purchase Order
Organizations’ supply chain departments can use an RPA bot to check inventory levels and initiate purchase orders when supply levels sink below a specified threshold.
Most companies have a purchase order template or online ordering process with their vendors, and the structured nature of purchase order information lends itself to automation.
Kapil Kalokhe, senior director of business advisory services at Chicago-based global IT consultancy Saggeza, said, “By automating the process with RPA, the team can ensure that the chances of process delays or errors are minimized”.
Having an efficient supply chain process reduces the risk of lost sales due to scarcity of materials or stock, ensuring that companies can manage optimal inventory levels. Companies should be able to manage their supply during peak and trough demand.
Production facilities produce reports at the inventory level of raw materials, process and work in finished goods. The IT can configure the RPA bot to sync with the company’s CRM system.
Based on the information in the report, the RPA bot can communicate with the appropriate supplier via email or ordering portal to place an order.
The purchasing manager will only need to track the information and approve the request. In many suppliers and organizations with high volume production, this process can occur hundreds of times per day.
“By including RPA, time savings will be significant,” Kalokhe said.
Using RPA does not mean that human inspection is unnecessary, however.
He added that it is also important to create an additional approval process for unusual activity so that too many or rare incidents are not misinterpreted.
Also read: Prepare Your Supply Chain for Coronavirus
6. Order Management
Automation for routine and repetitive manual tasks, such as load matching with transport availability and order management, can be difficult to implement directly in existing ERPs. Robotic process automation technology can make this easier to accomplish.
The RPA can streamline these aspects of the order management process, said Prasad Satyavolu, chief digital officer for manufacturing, logistics and energy at Cognizant’s utilities, N.J., an IT consultancy based in Teaneck.
RPA can help bring together data from multiple data silos such as organizational management modules, Excel sheets and web portals.
“If an organization has limited ability to collect, consolidate, and correlate data, then decision making is hindered,” Satyavolu said.
Front-line workers can call these RPA bots to perform other repetitive tasks, such as emailing, initiating calls, and calling reports.
7. Supply chain diversity
RPA can help firms construct a more resilient supply chain in the aftermath of COVID-19 by bringing automation to provider relationships.
Company leaders must create a resilience automation attack group along with also a roadmap to scale any procedures using automation, making them more resilient,” stated Craig Le Clair, vice president and chief analyst at Forrester Research.
“Company leaders must look to incorporate automation to provide neighborhood [provider ] options to provide chains to tighten them and reduce prices,” Le Clair explained.
When firms unite RPA applications with machine learning, it may collect data from sellers and customers, run simulations and examine options.
This enhances supply chain diversity. Intelligent automation layers AI in addition to RPA and will help organize a request for quote package and permit access to a broader set of sellers.
These very same tools will help arrange the information from seller files, enabling technicians to compare it. RPA bots may also help perform desktop “due diligence” jobs, like conducting compliance and credit tests, to streamline the vendor selection procedure.
An industrial manufacturer may use a bot to automatically accumulate and compare revenue predictions, production capability and provide information from its vast network of providers each month and flag some limitations or discrepancies, stated Mark Hermans, managing director at PwC, a U.K.-based media firm.
Other bots can confirm new product information to make certain the bill of materials along with other related parameters are precise and in sync throughout technology, planning and procurement systems. This procedure employs RPA to confirm its supply chain programs.
“These are critically important but frequently undervalued time sink jobs,” Hermans said. “Saving as tiny as a couple of minutes per trade, these sorts of bots can free up precious time over the duration of tens of thousands of iterations allowing planners, engineers and buyers to concentrate on more rewarding and greater value-add actions”.