Bloomberg declares: “The global supply chain is a mess.”
CNN reports: “The global supply chain nightmare is about to get worse.”
CNBC adds: “The pandemic has left one very destructive issue in its wake: disruption to global supply chains.”
Given such negativity, it has never been more important for executives and business leaders to think outside the box when navigating supply chain management and that is why an increasing number are turning to the benefits of robotic process automation (RPA). While many organisations have embraced various Supply Chain Management (SCM) systems, the dream of complete process automation and data integration has largely remained out of reach but that is set to change as digital transformation changes how companies deliver products, conduct operations and fulfil orders.
After all, what could be more appealing at a time of global supply chain pressure than the ability to boost efficiencies and slash costs without being forced to invest in major infrastructure or recruit additional staff?
By definition, robotic process automation sees software solutions used to automate and accelerate time-consuming and repetitive processes that have traditionally been done manually. From order processing and shipment scheduling to invoicing and customer service, supply chain management involves countless tasks and activities that can benefit from the power of RPA.
One study has shown RPA results in a 43% time reduction for tasks such as credit, collections and billing, meaning there is huge potential for companies that want to more effectively manage their complex supply chains. Better still, automation allows employees to spend less time on repetitive robotic jobs and increasingly focus on higher-value work such as problem-solving and creative solutions.
RPA has already revolutionised many industries, with Grandview tipping its global market value to soar from $358 million in 2017 to $3.11 billion in 2025. However, despite how much it has changed the face of healthcare, retail and manufacturing, supply chain operations have been less quick to embrace robotic process automation technology. One reason is the early iterations of RPA robots were not flexible enough to handle the complexity of many supply chain scenarios and therefore could only be used to automate those elements that were simple and followed set patterns.
That is fast changing though, with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enhancing the cognitive abilities that enable modern RPA tools to increasingly resemble humans. The day is fast approaching, if it has not only arrived in some areas, when RPA in supply chain management can be used far beyond repetitive outcomes and actually predict outcomes and support complex decision-making.
Let’s explore various areas of supply chain management that can benefit from RPA.
Having highlighted various supply chain functions that are embracing RPA, let’s now consider specific ways that automation is streamlining processes.
For all the positives outlined above, the RPA journey can be a tricky one, especially for organisations looking to implement automation for the first time. Having previously highlighted why creating a quality business case is crucial when pursuing an RPA tool, here are a few specific challenges supply chain managers may encounter when they begin to strategise automation.
RPA undoubtedly has the power to revolutionise supply chain management. That said, implementing a successful strategy is no mean feat. It requires strategic thinking, in-depth planning and business leaders to generate genuine enthusiasm for the challenge among staff, partners and other stakeholders. The rewards are well worth it though, with enhanced efficiency and productivity, cost reductions and more satisfied employees and customers all within reach for companies that have the conviction to choose a smarter way.
RPA is enabling many organisations to revolutionise traditional workplace practices, including one of Australia’s leading security companies that was encountering significant billing issues due to a COVID-inspired surge in demand. Discover how RPA helped it achieve an 80% reduction in bad debt/write-offs and save around $80,000 in manual effort costs.