If you aren’t already leveraging cognitive technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) in your business network, you may be missing out on critical supply chain improvements.
Cognitive and AI systems use natural language processing and machine learning to understand, reason, learn about and analyze all types of data. Also, they can interact with users in a more natural, conversational manner.
For B2B networks and supply chains, these capabilities can be leveraged for a wide variety of improvements including:
- Providing greater visibility and insight—from high level to granular detail
- Enabling split-second decision making based on the best data available
- Increasing awareness of critical issues
- Suggesting the best courses of action
- Fostering collaboration among departments and partners
With these capabilities like these, you can plan for (or avoid) disruptions, proactively handle potential issues with suppliers, and ensure you can meet or exceed customer expectations (among many other benefits). Let’s take a closer look at some of the AI and cognitive capabilities available for B2B operations and supply chains today.
1. Providing On-the-Spot, Expert Guidance from a Trusted Advisor
Imagine being able to ask, “When was the last shipment from Acme?” and receiving answers immediately, without needing to waste time searching through numerous documents. Cognitive and AI capabilities can provide you with the shipment number and can help you drill even further into the information, getting to the real answers you want by asking you if you want the ship date or estimated delivery date, for example.
These systems can also learn from prior queries, understanding what worked and saving the results so that the next time you or a team member logs in and ask a question, they can return more tailored results. With these capabilities, you can augment your supply chain talent and knowledge, while fostering collaboration among your team members.
2. Revealing Real-Time Details and Insights About Transactions and Trends
Answering what may seem to be a simple question about a transaction or a trend often requires contacting an EDI or B2B integration specialist to do a lot of work for you, thanks to the plethora of documents from partners that need to be searched through or referenced. But systems with artificial intelligence can allow users to ask questions natural language—and then correlate the information, find and present the best information to answer the question.
For example, you or a partner may need to know the status of a large order consisting of many parts. Instead of an individual spending excessive time and effort trying to piece together documents and information manually, cognitive and AI systems can present the entire transaction to point where the order is in its lifecycle in mere seconds.
The user asks a question such as, “Show me shipment 876530,” and cognitive capabilities can process this query and return documents for the user to review. This can be done across the entire order-to-cash or procure-to-pay cycle, and can provide the granular details about the underlying order, shipment and receipt. This capability allows you and your partners to plan more effectively, adjust for delays, and set expectations with customers if appropriate.
3. Knowing How Well Your Partners are Performing
For your supply chain to operate optimally, you must ensure your partners are adhering to their commitments. However, if they’re not—or if their typical turnaround time is less than acceptable—you’re missing opportunities to increase customer satisfaction and revenue.
Leveraging artificial intelligence takes monitoring service level agreements (SLAs) to a new level. Instead of just receiving alerts when something goes wrong, you can establish an "early warning system" around declining performance or missed SLAs so that you can take corrective action before a small issue becomes a big problem.
For example, in the order-to-pay process, a partner may take several hours to process payment, past the acceptable window. You’re notified in your dashboard that the partner is late to pay, and you can review your SLAs that are in jeopardy and take corrective action before it becomes an SLA violation. Furthermore, artificial intelligence can present list the potential violations in the order of priority, so that you can focus on the most pressing problems first.
Artificial intelligence can also help strengthen relationships with partners as issues are identified. Businesses can work together to uncover and resolve issues before SLAs are violated or orders are disrupted. Or, if improvements aren't made, a company can renegotiate contracts or search for suppliers better suited to their changing business.
4. Tapping into a Variety of Valuable Data Sources On the Fly
When you are able to pull in data from disparate sources across your organization, from partners, and from external data sources such as weather data—cognitive capabilities and AI can help you achieve even more. This data can be leveraged effectively to answer questions from your staff, help to make better and faster decisions, and to recommend the best course of action based on a wide variety of information. All of this can help you and your partners mitigate disruptions to the supply chain, or identify opportunities for improvement
5. Empowering Business and Technical Users to Achieve Better Outcomes
Artificial intelligence and cognitive capabilities make B2B operations and supply chain management more intuitive by allowing users to ask questions in their natural language, learning from queries, and returning relevant information quickly. It can also reduce ramp-up and training time for your employees, as they’ll be able to find information across systems quickly, with minimal training on using systems and applications.
These technologies also provide a new level visibility into suppliers and service level agreements. Business users can proactively address issues before the supply chain is disrupted, mitigating risk and avoiding loss.
Ultimately, artificial intelligence and cognitive capabilities empower businesses and users to make decisions that will result in greater customer satisfaction, lower costs, improved profitability, and stronger partnerships.
We'll explore this topic and these solutions in more detail in future blog posts. In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about this topic and the solutions that leverage cognitive technologies, you can view content about IBM Supply Chain Business Network and IBM Supply Chain Insights on our site.
Also, check out this report learn more about how AI and cognitive technologies are transforming supply chains, as well as other supply chain resources on our resource library.
About the Author
Lori Angalich is the VP of Marketing at Lightwell. She loves exploring new technologies and business models, learning how things work, solving problems, and developing new ideas with others. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and an MBA in Marketing, and she enjoys applying her knowledge from both each and every day. Lori has a passion for travel, art, wine, music, wildlife (including her two dogs, who are a bit on the "wild side"), and most of all, creating great memories with her family.