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Chatbots Take Their Place in 2020s Cloudy Supply Chain, With A Chance of Meatballs


Chris Knight

Supply chain, the art of getting raw materials, parts, finished products and everything in between from A to B to C to shop or customer is an increasingly sophisticated business within any company. Adoption of 5G, chatbots, Internet of Things and other technology enablers are helping them move goods faster, more efficiently and improving communications.

It is tough not to raise a smile, among the cold facts or marketing blurb that many businesses deal in, when you read about IKEA’s chefs getting their meatball stock orders through a chatbot. In increasingly digital and automated supply chains, knowing that everything is measured down to that morsel of meaty goodness demonstrates a company that is on top of its game when it comes to supply and demand.

As supply chains evolve, IKEA is just one brand that demonstrates the need for control and vision. The Swedish giant is bringing its store ordering function in-house to create data and pricing history that it can leverage with artificial intelligence to get a better picture of the future, avoid waste and spot changing trends.

Across the world, every business is rethinking how it moves supplies. Especially in the light of the COVID-19 Coronavirus putting crippling delays into production and transport across Asia and further. Such is the impact that Deutsche Telecom is just one company warning that the virus might impact the telco’s supply chain and possibly the arrival of 5G.

5G will play a key part in many supply chain updates and plans, making use of Internet of Things devices that can measure the temperature of goods in transit, along with moisture and vibration that could affect the quality of perishables. For last-mile deliveries among couriers, 5G will help validate the arrival of goods beyond “someone definitely signed for it” and location beacons can identify and locate any item in a warehouse of millions of items.

Blockchain will also play a key role in an integrated approach, helping to automate logging, sales and tracking for physical goods, while helping to defeat counterfeiting by proving what is a genuine article, and ensuring bills are settled faster than ever.

Between all these technologies, businesses can focus on their core skills and leave the detail of supply chain to as-a-service tools coming from their delivery partners, mobile network providers or other players helping to bring supply chain into the 2020s.

These tools will help businesses collaborate with partners and customers to develop new opportunities and improve both upstream and downstream logistics and distribution. Over time, automated delivery vehicles, from planes and boats to cars and lorries will take their place in the supply chain, bringing further fidelity to the process.

As these connected systems produce petabytes of data, it will be impossible for a human to monitor it all. Therefore, AI will take over, collating the masses of data and providing advice and recommendations into a dashboard-style. Chatbots offering options will be used to provide discussions among key parties when changes need making, helping provide rapid responses to avoid slowing down the supply chain.

So, when component x is suddenly cheaper from supplier y, the bot can let everyone know, accept the change, make the order and alert everyone downstream as to any change in the process.

All of this technology sounds hard to implement, but services will be delivered just like CRM or office tools. New devices will connect to secure networks, with 5G offering the ability to create new ad hoc networks on the fly, and the business can build dedicated tools using code-less creation services like SnatchBot or supply chain tools, using APIs to link services together, reducing the need for a costly IT department.

Whatever the business, from auto parts to consumables, base metals to meatballs, supply chain is improving how every part of the process is connected and bots will provide the human interaction element, providing alerts and information on an as-needed basis, and taking action immediately to minimise delays.

And, as bots talk to each other in a machine-to-machine world, trust, privacy and security will be built-in to ensure the right decisions are made on behalf of a business, making the best deals at the best prices without the need for constant oversight.

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