The digital transformation of supply chains — it’s a phrase you hear a lot these days, but what is different today compared to the late 1990s and early 2000s when the internet, Web, and dotcoms triggered their own business transformations? In other words, haven’t supply chains been digital for a while already?
“If you look at supply chains and how they’re dynamically changing today and becoming more complex — things like e-commerce and direct-to-consumer deliveries, globalization (which has been going on for a while), smaller and more frequent shipments, and shippers more aggressively managing their supply chains — all of these things are driving the need for greater technology adoption,” said Chad Lindbloom, Chief Information Officer at C.H. Robinson in a recent episode of Talking Logistics. “So, the digital transformation of supply chains started many years ago, but recent advancements in technology and the availability of more affordable solutions have led to a lot more process automation and management by exception.”
As one example, Lindbloom highlighted the rise of GPS-enabled mobile devices, which has made shipment tracking more affordable and widespread, and he also highlighted cloud computing and the growing use of APIs for integration.
We also discussed another technology that is generating a lot of buzz these days: artificial intelligence (machine learning). What is the value proposition of AI? How will it help companies better manage their supply chains? Linbloom shares his perspective in the short clip below, where he provides examples of how C.H. Robinson is using AI/machine learning for pricing optimization, finding capacity, and managing supply chain disruptions.
Does AI mean you and I will be out of a job in the future?
“I think the types of skills that will be needed in logistics will continue to change and evolve, but I do not think the human factor will ever go away,” said Linbloom. “It takes people like us to figure out the models and you can’t build a model that predicts every single situation. And relationships are still important between logistics service providers, carriers, and shippers. So, yes, moving forward we will probably have fewer people per transportation dollar spent in the industry, but there will definitely still be a need for people; they’ll just be focused on more value-added activities. Having our people focus on knowledge work instead of routine tasks is a big area of focus for us and everyone else in the industry.”
As more supply chain data is generated and collected, there’s growing demand for data scientists in the industry. “We’re increasing the number of data scientists we’re hiring,” said Linbloom. “They are a different type of person with different skills, but they’re good at bringing ideas forward and finding patterns that you never would have dreamed of.”
But Linbloom also offered these words of caution and advice:
“One of the things people stumble on sometimes with artificial intelligence and data science is that because they’re buzzwords, they want to have it. So they go out and hire data scientists but they really don’t have their plan put together yet. You need the business vision first and know the problems you’re trying to solve…Don’t feel like you need to hire a data scientist unless you actually have a project for them to work on just because everybody else is talking about data science.”
I encourage you to watch the rest of my conversation with Chad for additional insights and advice on this topic, then post a question or comment and share your perspective!