7 use cases for RPA in supply chain and logistics

Finding new ways to improve supply chain management efficiency is more important than ever. Robotic process automation – or RPA – is a technology that can help.

RPA can improve supply chain management and logistics by automating repetitive time-consuming tasks like data entry, which in turn improves workflow. RPA uses automated software robots – or bots – to extract data from one application and paste it into another.

RPA technology isn’t as sophisticated or as fast as some other integration techniques, but it can be easier to implement. It can also facilitate complementary technologies.

“In most cases, RPA is used in conjunction with other digital levers such as IoT, intelligent document processing, chatbots, mobile applications, and even blockchain to redefine workflows and address bottlenecks and other key business challenges,” said Shirley Hung, vice president at Everest Group, a management consulting and research company in Dallas.

Here are seven ways companies are incorporating RPA into logistics and supply chain workflows.

1. Automation of data entry

The lack of integration is a critical problem for almost any business involved in shipping goods, and RPA software can help fill in some gaps.

Take the example of the outsourced logistics service provider AM Transport.

The company had two infrastructures built: one on Boomi, a Dell Technologies company, to connect EDI integrations between its customers, and an in-house application infrastructure on Salesforce, Google and AWS, said Jason Doris, CTO of AM Transport. Direct API integrations can handle many workflows, but there were loopholes that required ongoing manual data entry, he said.

The Doris team implemented Boomi Flow, an RPA service, to eliminate repetitive data entry and EDI tasks and extend the workflow to other areas.

“When a chain of events occurs, I can automatically contact customers, notify accounting, and submit [bills of lading]”Said Doris.” Before, I would have had to do all of these tasks separately and manually. “

2. Predictive maintenance

Device maintenance is an important aspect of supply chain management, and RPA, in conjunction with other technologies, can help by facilitating predictive maintenance.

For example, in an oil and gas factory, IoT-based predictive maintenance can identify corrosion and pipeline damage, Hung said. These IoT applications then use sensors installed throughout the pipeline to obtain data on the potential for hydrogen and gaseous contents. The applications call up sensor data in real time and transfer it to the cloud for evaluation, analysis and prediction.

RPA bots respond to this information by automating the maintenance planning process, notifying affected customers, and updating financial plans, she said. This eliminates delays that are normally due to manual labor, improves response times, reduces employee effort and increases operational efficiency.

3. Logistics management

RPA can make the delivery phase of the supply chain more efficient.

In these cases, RPA bots monitor orders and update order submission details across all relevant systems, Hung said. You can also work in conjunction with AI-based intelligent routing systems that coordinate between multiple logistics partners such as road freight, cargo ships and air freight. The bots can automatically assign a delivery partner based on the location of the products.

RPA bots can also generate notifications to customers when there is a delay, improving the customer experience through practice and real-time order updates, she said. Essentially, the technology improves error handling. RPA is particularly useful when managing cross-border shipments that may require various additional customs, storage and inspection processes that need to be coordinated.

4. Customer service

What happens after a sale becomes increasingly important, and RPA can work with several other technologies to improve this aspect of supply chain management.

For example, when a customer makes a service request through a mobile app, a smart virtual assistant or chatbot can interact with customers and then make requests in the system, Hung said. Intelligent document processing applications can read data from various document formats for service requests and then coordinate with RPA bots to collect and manage service ticket data.

If a customer needs to make a return, a third-party service and reverse logistics partner mobile app can improve the visibility of the location, arrival time and duration to complete the work in the event of repairs. RPA bots can track orders in real time and automatically send confirmation emails to customers.

Digitally activated processes reduce the workload for employees and the time required for back-end processes, which frees up time for interacting with dissatisfied customers.

Shirley HungVice President of the Everest Group

“Digitally activated processes reduce employee effort and time spent on back-end processes, which frees up time to interact with dissatisfied customers,” said Hung.

5. Initiate orders

Organizations supply chain departments can use an RPA bot to check inventory levels and place an order when inventory levels drop below a certain threshold. Most companies have an order template or online ordering process in place with their suppliers, and the structure of the order information lends itself to automation.

“By automating the process with RPA, the team can ensure that the process is consistent and that the likelihood of delays or errors is reduced,” said Kapil Kalokhe, senior director of business advisory services at Saggezza, a Chicago-based global IT consulting firm.

Maintaining an efficient supply chain process reduces the risk of lost sales due to material or inventory shortages and ensures that companies can manage optimal inventory levels. Companies need to be able to manage their supply during peak and low demand.

Manufacturing facilities report on inventory levels of raw materials, work in progress, and finished goods. IT can configure an RPA bot to sync with the company’s CRM system. Based on the report information, the RPA bot can communicate with the appropriate supplier via email or order portal in order to place an order. The purchasing manager would only have to monitor the notifications and approve the request. In organizations with multiple suppliers and mass production, this process can happen hundreds of times per day.

“Including RPA would save a lot of time,” said Kalokhe.

However, the use of RPA does not mean that human supervision is not required.

It’s also important to create an additional approval process for abnormal activity to avoid ordering too much or misinterpreting rare occurrences, he said.

6. Order management

Automations for routine and repetitive manual tasks, such as B. Load balancing with transport availability and order management, can be difficult to implement directly into the existing ERP. Robotic process automation technology can make this easier.

RPA can streamline these aspects of the order management process, said Prasad Satyavolu, chief digital officer for manufacturing, logistics and energy for utilities at Cognizant, an IT consulting firm based in Teaneck, NJ

RPA can also help merge data from multiple data silos, such as: B. Organization management modules, Excel spreadsheets and web portals.

“When an organization has limited ability to aggregate, consolidate and correlate data, decision-making is limited at best,” said Satyavolu.

Front-line workers can call these RPA bots to perform other repetitive tasks, such as: B. Send e-mails, initiate calls and compile reports.

7. Diversity of the supply chain

RPA can help businesses Building a more stable supply chain in the course of COVID-19 through automation of supplier relationships.

Business leaders should develop a resilience automation strike team and a roadmap to use automation to scale all processes, making them more resilient, said Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research.

“Business leaders should try to add automation to offer local products [supplier] Options for supply chains to streamline them and reduce costs, “said Le Clair.

When companies combine RPA software with machine learning, they can collect data from vendors and customers, run simulations, and analyze alternatives. This improves the diversity of the supply chain. Intelligent automation levels AI over RPA and can help prepare a request for quotation and enable access to a larger number of providers.

The same tools can help organize the data from supplier documents so that technicians can compare it. RPA bots can also help perform background due diligence tasks like running credit and compliance reviews to streamline the supplier selection process.

An industrial manufacturer can use a bot to automatically collect and compare sales forecasts, production capacities and delivery data from its extensive supplier network every month, and display restrictions or inconsistencies, said Mark Hermans, managing director at PwC, a UK-based network company. Other bots can review new product data to ensure that the bill of materials and other related parameters are correct and in sync across engineering, procurement, and planning systems. This process uses RPA to validate its supply chain plans.

“These are vitally important, but often undervalued time-cutting tasks,” said Hermans. “These types of bots save just a few minutes per transaction and can free up valuable time over tens of thousands of iterations so that planners, buyers and engineers can focus on more rewarding and more value-adding activities.”

April 10, 2021