Robotic process automation (RPA) allows an organization to deploy smart software bots that will automate common operational processes throughout the business. These bots are intelligent agents that can learn how specific tasks are performed and then repeat those tasks, eliminating human error and reducing overhead.

Robotic process automation and software bots rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand context and automate processes correctly. RPA also takes advantage of natural language processing (NLP) for better human interaction.

Supply chain management (SCM) uses robotic process automation to automate common, low-value tasks, which streamlines operations in the supply chain and removes human error. RPA allows supply chains to scale up faster so that they can meet supply requirements as demand increases.

How RPA Relates to the Supply Chain

Eliminate the Manual Input of Purchase Orders and Other Administrative Tasks

Raising, responding to and processing purchase orders is a significant administrative overhead for suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. Robotic process automation identifies required inventory levels and matches them against actual stock. RPA will then raise purchase orders that travel up the supply chain without relying on human intervention.

Respond to Supply Chain Requests for Proposals, Quotes and Questions

Organizations often have questions of suppliers and other stakeholders further up the supply chain. Those stakeholders use a combination of NLP and RPA to parse, understand and respond to questions and requests for quotes or proposals. This results in faster turnaround and more accurate responses to common queries.

Analyze Repeatable Tasks to Identify Supply Chain Efficiencies

Robotic process automation generates lots of data. This data is analyzed to identify how processes can be enhanced further, resulting in greater efficiencies, reduced waste, higher quality and fewer delays. When combined with predictive or prescriptive analytics, robotic process automation becomes part of a continual improvement process that streamlines the supply chain.

Seamless Integration With Other Supply Chain Systems and Tools

The efficiencies of robotic process automation aren’t limited to one platform or organization. True RPA will integrate with and work across multiple software, systems and tools used by stakeholders throughout the supply chain. This reduces duplication and increases speed and quality for all suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and other organizations.

Why RPA Matters to the Supply Chain

Robotic process automation provides significant benefits for the supply chain:

  • Supply chain stakeholders can adapt to demand and scale up operations more quickly due to automated processes.
  • Organizations can reduce administrative overhead, resulting in lower staffing costs.
  • Businesses in the supply chain can shift their staff away from low-value, repeatable tasks towards value-added activities that generate revenue and drive other improvements.
  • RPA can eliminate human error and duplication in the supply chain, resulting in less rework, higher quality outputs and more streamlined processes.
  • Retailers can get stock delivered faster due to earlier identification of inventory needs that translates into timely purchase orders throughout the supply chain.

The Challenges of Using RPA in the Supply Chain

There are several challenges to implementing effective robotic process automation in the supply chain. These include:

  • Ensuring supply chain data is captured, managed and output in a structured way so that RPA intelligent agents make efficient use of the information.
  • Implementing RPA agents too quickly, or not integrating them properly with business processes will create significant project and operational overheads that are financially challenging.
  • Not thinking about how changes to business processes elsewhere will affect intelligent agents can significantly impact supply chain operations.
  • Poor RPA change management or design will result in erroneous outputs that are hard to track down and resolve.
  • RPA must be built into every aspect of the development lifestyle to ensure proper integration and operations with other tools and platforms.

RPA Use Cases in Retail and Manufacturing Supply Chains

  • Supply chain managers use robotic process automation to create, update and manage contract and other data for better supplier management.
  • Retailers take advantage of RPA to ensure they have the right inventory levels to meet consumer demands.
  • Supply chain managers use RPA to research the supplier and manufacturer markets using consistent criteria, allowing for easier supplier selection.
  • Manufacturers easily respond to RFPs, questions and quotes in a timely and accurate way.
  • Retailers and manufacturers get early shipping notifications, so they can plan to receive and process raw materials or finished products.

Learn how Blume Digital Platform uses robotic process automation and other advanced technologies to transform supply chain visibility and orchestration. 

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