Have you heard of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? That is basically software that makes use of ML and AI to do routine manual SCM activities like process a Purchase Order. The process is manual, tactical, and clerically driven. However, that RPA software is learning from itself on how to do things better, faster, and cheaper. For example, RPA could start saying things like: I think we are paying too much, I think we should be using a different supplier, I think we are ordering in the wrong quantities, etc. The RPA software might actually decide to reopen the contract and have suppliers rebid on the business and the RPA might actually pick the new supplier. Yes, there will likely be human intervention for any activities that are “strategic”.
For me, tactical means all the day to day operational grunt work. Strategic to me means the decisions that have to be made with longer term implications and consequences. For example, if the RPA wants to switch suppliers, that to me is strategic because it has long term consequences. Maybe one day the RPA will change suppliers without human intervention and actually negotiate the terms and conditions of the contract with a new supplier. Well, for non strategic stuff like office supplies it is already happening.
I have a former student who went on to become a technology consultant and I asked him: if a company wanted to get started with using RPA, where and how should they begin in general? See his response below. Let’s just say the student has become the teacher.
Hi Sime: I do not have hands-on experience with RPA but here are some points on how to approach a new technology investment, based on what I have seen in software and professional services:
1. Have a very specific use case for implementing RPA. This requires research on behalf of your company. If you approach it with a general attitude that says, “Let’s have robots do all the work”, you will end up paying a consulting firm loads of money to evaluate your business for RPA opportunities, only to hear them tell you what you could have figured out on your own.
2. It would be better to research industry peers to see what they are doing with RPA, THEN engage a consulting firm to help you implement an RPA solution that is focused on specific business processes.
If you are looking for general help with where to start on RPA, I would advise against outsourcing the research to consulting/tech firms. It would be best to engage a consulting/tech firm for the implementation of an RPA solution, but not for general advisement on where to start. Most high-level assessments are a rip-off in my experience and do not add much value. RPA is a cool technology but I have seen limited adoption with the mid-market companies I work with. It seems more popular with Fortune 500 because they can afford the investment. In my opinion, companies of ALL sizes would get more value investing in integration solutions rather than RPA. Integrating disparate systems is a problem that all companies face, and I believe it’s a problem of greater importance than automating repetitive tasks.
From 2016 to 2019, “data scientist” held the top spot on Glassdoor’s list of “50 Best Jobs in America”. For the past two years, the job has ranked second.
From someone smarter than me: “Instead of fixating on a single technique or programming language, ask yourself, what is the best set of tools or techniques that will help you to solve your problem? Focus on problem solving, and the tools will come naturally. ” – Robert Chang, Data @Airbnb(8)
The “Digital” transformation is getting VERY popular these days. We have heard of Industry 4.0, but in reality it is SCM 4.0, because nothing happens w/o the supply chain HEAVILY involved. For digitization to work, manual processes have to be digitized/automated & eventually analyzed. That is what companies are doing right now. Converting manual to digitized versions requires someone with a good knowledge on systems analysis & design, data storage & information retrieval. These are the topics usually covered in IT/CIS/CS majors. A lot of companies have gone past this stage, but they are facing the next problem – data analysis. Data are collected, but no one knows what to do with it. That’s where our Business Analytics minor comes in as an undergrad. If you lack these skills, go get your MS in Data Analytics before you miss the boat. These skills would include: big data/analytics, database management, data mining, project management, SQL, Python, PMO, Tableau, Power BI, etc. Fortunately, most of my undergrads walk away with these skills.
Here is a good read on how SCM 4.0 does not have to be super expensive:
As a new field like supply chain digitization evolves, people are still trying to figure out the essential components that characterize it. This is the reason that people offer certificates in digital supply chain in all kinds of flavor. For example, some schools take a high-level managerial approach, some take an ERP+BI+PM approach, & others take an analytics+strategic planning approach. One issue with the mini MBA in Digital Supply Chain programs is not their high level managerial approach per se, but perhaps the usefulness on what they predict will be super useful. They could be wrong for example on dedicating an entire course to Robotic Process Automation per se (some programs have an entire class dedicated to RPA?!).
Again, for me, tactical means all the day to day operational grunt work. Strategic to me means the decisions that have to be made with longer term implications and consequences. For example, if the RPA wants to switch suppliers, that to me is strategic because it has long term consequences. Maybe one day the RPA will change suppliers without human intervention and actually negotiate the terms and conditions of the contract with a new supplier. Well, for non strategic stuff like office supplies it is already happening.
Microsoft has entered the RPA game, that means this is getting serious:
One more time – A lot of grad degree programs tend to offer trendy courses. This reminds me a lot about the Business Process Reengineering or Business Process Automation course that people used to offer years ago. On RPA for example (which is all the rage now),… • Will there be a continuous or frequent demand for RPA at a company? • Will new RPA need to be created or existing RPA need to be tuned often? • What kind of robots are involved? Consumer robots, manufacturing robots, or a mixture of both? • Will the course need to teach realistic applications or BPR? What technologies? What kind of robots and for what purpose? If the answer is no and no to the first two questions, the skills will likely be taught and then forgotten. This is not to say that there is no environment that needs a constant or frequent RPA design and tuning, but I wonder what kind of environment that would be and how much a company would sustain doing that for long. If the RPA is done once in a few years for example, I am not sure of the utility/usefulness of such a graduate course other than showing people that they are teaching leading-edge topics.
RPA Process Controller (Charlotte or virtual)
As a member of Sonic’s Center of Process Excellence (CoPE) the Process Controller will be responsible for the daily administration of the automation software production environment, Level 1 support, and process monitoring and improvement using UiPath. The Process Controller will be responsible for managing the deployment of approved robotic code into the production environment including scheduling processes, monitoring resources, etc. The Process Controller will also be the first point of contact for issue resolution and will investigate and triage issues in to determine appropriate break-fix or escalation procedure. The Process Controller position will report to the Center of Process Excellence Operations Manager.
I have had several people ask me about “Industry 4.0” or “Supply Chain 4.0” or “Digitization” of the Supply Chain. https://lnkd.in/eZfHNqy
Most simply want to know what it means & how it will impact SCM.
For a quick commentary on why employers now also expect you to be a Data Scientist, see: https://lnkd.in/eqs3qwG
Notice in the video that I repeatedly said a huge part of Industry 4.0 will be taking all the “manual” processes that exist & “automating” them using “technology” so that they get done better, faster, & cheaper. That to a large extent has already happened & will continue to happen, but for mostly “tactical” stuff (not “strategic” stuff). For example, my first job in SCM 30 years ago was making sure the right stuff was at the right place, at the right time, in the right quantities, & at the right price. OK, first, that job was super “tactical” & you did not need a college degree to do it. Second, that job was a manually driven process that has since been “automated” using technology & the technology actually does it better, faster, & cheaper than a human. In fact, the technology can learn from itself using machine learning (ML) & artificial intelligence (AI).
For example, have you heard of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? That is basically software that makes use of ML & AI to do routine manual SCM activities like process a Purchase Order. The process is manual, tactical, and clerically driven. However, that RPA software is learning from itself on how to do things better, faster, & cheaper. For example, RPA could start saying things like: I think we are paying too much, I think we should be using a different supplier, I think we are ordering in the wrong quantities, etc. The RPA software might actually decide to reopen the contract & have suppliers rebid on the business & the RPA might actually pick the new supplier. Yes, there will likely be human intervention for any activities that are “strategic”. RPA: https://lnkd.in/eQYrHUM
Simply become “data scientists” because the next few years will likely double, triple, etc., the amount of data that SCM organizations will have because of Industry 4.0. Think about that. By the time you graduate, SCM orgs will have 2-3 times more data at their disposal. The SCM professionals that will flourish will be the ones that can make sense of that data to do their jobs better, faster, and cheaper. The Business Analytics minor sets you up for success so that Industry 4.0 becomes your friend & not your replacement. Do you feel like you will be ready?
Will technology replace supply chain jobs? https://lnkd.in/eu7ANq6
Here is a good read on how SCM 4.0 does not have to be super expensive:
Thank you. Sime
Dr. Sime (Sheema) Curkovic, Ph.D., Professor, Operations/Supply Chain
Western Michigan University, Haworth College of Business
“WMU Integrated Supply Management (ISM)…Nation’s best undergraduate SCM program (Gartner); 2nd in SCM technology (SoftwareAdvice); 2nd in top global SCM talent (SCM World)”