Generative AI, Robotics and Automation: Supply Chain Friends or Foes?

Generative AI may represent a fundamental shift for supply chains

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The beginning use of generative AI, smart robots and automation in supply chain management provides us with much potential. However, for supply chain leaders, it is critical to recognize the implications these technologies might have for their workforce.

Technologies such as generative AI promise a leap in efficiency not seen since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. For many functions, such as sorting products, packing orders, and loading trucks, automation has proven efficient in performing jobs. They also benefit supply chains by reducing the human cognitive load and volume of monotonous tasks. Despite these benefits, these technologies have also sparked fears of mass job losses.

While these concerns are understandable, the emergence of generative AI also promises a successful path forward for supply chains. One that centers around an increase in efficiency and an improvement in human working conditions.

The promise of generative AI

Generative AI, working with vast amounts of data and capable of creating multiple future scenarios, may represent a fundamental shift for supply chains, supporting demand and supply planning and improving decision-making. Generative AI can help businesses anticipate many potential outcomes, helping us to make supply chains more resilient.

Generative AI also shows potential in supply chain planning. This technology can generate and evaluate different scenarios and support humans to optimize the choice of suppliers, manage inventory more effectively, or identify the most efficient routes for transportation.

Brink of extinction or evolutionary catalysts?

In films such as “The Terminator,” machines take over the world, leaving humanity on the brink of extinction. In many organizations today, there is a genuine concern that automation and AI, including generative AI, might make many jobs currently filled by humans obsolete.

However, while new technologies can replace humans in routine tasks, they also create opportunities for our teams to focus on more complex, strategic roles. Using new technologies effectively requires shifting capabilities away from repetitive operational tasks to problem-solving, strategic planning, and technology management. Supply chain leaders would be well-served to create awareness of the opportunities associated with these technologies. This is about job evolution and not simply reducing or eliminating roles that can now be automated.

5 considerations to get your team onboard

Supply chain leaders should consider the potential benefits of generative AI, robotics, and automation in supply chain management while being mindful of the implications for their teams. Evaluating how these technologies may affect roles and responsibilities within the supply chain is crucial. When determining how to move forward, consider:

1. Reinforce job security by promoting skill development, especially in advanced technologies, facilitating learning programs or initiatives, and upskilling existing team members.

2. Highlight the significance of critical thinking and problem-solving skills by redefining roles and concentrating more on higher-value activities that require human judgment and creativity.

3. Ensure a smooth transition toward a technology-driven supply chain through robust change management by communicating the advantages of automation and AI, addressing potential concerns, and providing adequate support during the transition phase.

4. Improve decision-making and elevate overall performance by encouraging team members to identify areas where AI and automation can augment human capabilities, such as AI-supported supply chain planning.

5. Make timely adjustments, guarantee data security, address ethical considerations, and avoid unintended consequences by staying current with robotics, automation, and AI advancements and establishing a continuous monitoring and optimization system.

Supply chain leaders must ensure that their organization’s relationship with technology is cooperative, not adversarial. This begins with gaining an understanding of actions that can help prepare your workforce, as well as the capabilities your organization requires to maximize the opportunity. By doing so, technology can be leveraged to support our teams and organizations to be more efficient.

About the author:

Gerhard Grimm is a senior director in Gartner’s Supply Chain Consumer Retail Team. He specializes in retail research and advising clients on a wide range of industry-focused topics, including supply chain strategy, industry trends, metrics & benchmarking, packaging, sustainability, returns and more. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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