RPA in Supply Chain Management – Bridging the Integration Gaps in Your Solution Architecture

Bridging the Integration Gaps in Your Solution Architecture

As a supply chain manager, you’re all about continuous improvement. You probably concentrate quite a bit on performance metrics, like order-to-delivery cycle times, order fill rate, stockout rate and backorders, to name a few. You’re always looking for more efficiency, for ways to do more with less and to optimize productivity by utilizing all your assets and human resources effectively. You want to optimize inventory levels and minimize inventory carrying costs.

Of course, no two supply chains are the same, and companies occupy different positions in their industry’s chain. No two supply chain managers confront identical challenges, either. In reality, there are numerous use-case scenarios for RPA in supply chain. Still, we’ll focus on three business functions central to the effectiveness of virtually every supply chain: Inventory Management, Order Processing, and Reporting Analytics.

RPA in Inventory Management

Typically, multiple systems – forecasting, purchasing and shipping systems, for instance – feed information into the inventory function, and inventory management itself is a component of a larger warehouse management system. Your inventory manager has visibility into existing inventory, he’s forecasted inventory levels based on incoming orders and he has re-order processes in place tied to inventory thresholds and supplier contracts.

But what happens if a supplier has production issues, if a shipment is running late or if there’s an unforeseen uptick in demand? RPA’s value proposition rests largely in notification and decision-making. In this instance, an automated process facilitated by robots will notify you, the inventory manager and other decision-makers of those issues much sooner than any human-driven process ever could. Your management team can react faster, maybe fast enough to get a jump on a competitor seeking the same part from the same secondary source – it could mean the difference between getting the part or not getting it. Maybe, as the first in line, you’ll be able to negotiate a better price.

Granted, many of the larger inventory management or enterprise management solutions may already integrate warehouse management module, purchasing and forecasting modules. However, enterprise-level integration likely doesn’t reach down to the micro-level, where you’re still relying on people to detect emerging challenges and make decisions. RPA augments existing integrations, automating processes deeper in the enterprise system, where integrations have no visibility.

Smaller organizations may not even have an integrated enterprise system; instead, supply chain managers and inventory managers are working with discrete, largely non-integrated solutions. RPA allows those organizations to integrate those solutions where-needed and can help them avoid paying thousands of dollars for wholesale integrations. There’s no need to fully integrate those large systems when all you need is integration at particular touch-points.

Improve Order Processing with RPA

Order processing means one thing to a manufacturer and something quite different to a home delivery business. Typically, though, in any supply chain scenario, order processing comes with a service level agreement (SLA) – some understanding that an order will be fulfilled accurately and by a specific deadline. Any modification to the order or circumstance influencing the ability to fulfill an order must be communicated not only to the organization’s managers and stakeholders internally but to the customer, be it a big-box retailer or a homeowner. Similar to its role in inventory management, RPA plays a big part in this notification process.

Home delivery is one example illustrating RPA’s role in order processing. A consumer with a time-sensitive home delivery order will receive an expected delivery date from the retailer. If two hours later, that consumer receives an automated email informing him or her of a delivery delay, they have time to buy the product elsewhere and petition the retailer for a refund. On the other hand, if the delivery date isn’t critical, he or she may be able to request a delayed-order credit from the retailer. Notification speed – the ability to react quickly – is the key to order processing and customer satisfaction.

RPA allows companies to take an order, apply logic to it, and quickly kick-off new workflow, making fulfillment decisions based on any up-to-the-minute shipping anomalies, changes in an existing inventory, or on orders already in the pipeline that haven’t processed through the organization’s enterprise systems. In that last scenario, RPA can bridge the time-lag by quickly alerting decision-makers to the fact that say, in the previous 30 minutes, the company has received more orders for a particular product than it has in inventory.

Supply chain managers are looking for anything that might affect the company’s ability to fulfill the order. So, rather than waiting on system approvals or waiting on a process that requires an account manager’s approval RPA can automatically and in real-time reach out to other systems to identify any potential choke-points in order fulfillment and inform all stakeholders.

Informed decision-making is key. Managers responsible for processing orders need to know whether or not they can assure a customer that they can place their order and verify delivery in X-number of days. In people-based processes, sometimes assumptions are made with limited information. An employee might reasonably assume, ‘If the order made it to me, then we must have enough in inventory, right?’. That, of course, is not always the case. RPA removes any doubt by comparing current orders to current inventory levels and notifying the employee if that particular order can be shipped.

Reporting Analytics

Organizations generate huge volumes of data potentially helpful to supply chain managers, improving accuracy in all of the supply chain’s component functions, from order processing and inventory management to freight management. The problem is, many organizations don’t have the resources necessary to analyze their data and report the insights they gain quickly enough to exploit it for decision-making.

It’s tempting to think of reporting in terms of an interface – a dashboard – that provides your view of data. While an interface is essential for aggregation, visualization and analytics, it doesn’t drive reporting; data does. Robots can help provide an accurate, granular snapshot of everything happening in your supply chain at any instant. Supply chain managers can use the data RPA collects to run their dashboards with up-to-the-second data.

RPA is bridging the gaps present in most large enterprise solution integrations, collecting and reporting data at previously inaccessible touch-points at the micro-level.  For instance, you may not have your contract management system integrated with your other systems. With RPA you can create a touch-point where a robot determines, based on your order volume, whether or not you should qualify for better price from a particular vendor.

That’s just one straightforward example of how, with a robot in place, you’ll access a much deeper, multi-dimensional pool of actionable data than you’ve had in the past.

RP3AS:  Robotic Process Automation as a Service

RPA application is by no means limited to the three supply chain management-related functions discussed here. InStream has helped companies across industries utilize InStream’s RPA3AS for supply and demand planning, work order management, refunds and returns, freight management and much more.

InStream project managers are experts in assessing organizations’ existing systems and working with supply chain stakeholders to identify what’s working, what’s not, what new capabilities they’d like to have and where RPA can help. You’re always looking for ROI, so InStream’s team focuses on where RPA drives the most value. We provide cloud-hosted RPA-as-a-service, so we can scale quickly as your needs dictate.

To learn more about InStream’s RP3AS for Supply Chain Management practice, please contact us or request more information at info@instreamllc.com.


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