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RouteiqueJan 1, 2024 7:00:00 AM9 min read

What You Need to Know About AI and Automation As A Supply Chain Tool In 2024

What You Need to Know About AI, ML, and Automation As A Supply Chain Tool In 2024

AI, Machine Learning, and Automation became a hotter topic than ever in 2023 thanks to the widespread adoption of tools such as ChatGPT. 

But what effect will this have on the supply chain? How can it help? And what misconceptions may surround it?

In this blog, we’re revisiting some of the discussions we had with a number of experts over the past year, such as experts at AMII, fellow entrepreneurs, and more. 

Key Takeaways:

  • AI/ML and automation are particularly useful when it comes to taking dangerous or tedious tasks off of human workers’ plates.

  • AI/ML tools can crunch large amounts of data and support faster, more efficient decision-making.

  • Businesses in the supply chain space still need to devote time to determining how they will use AI/ML and automation solutions, as well as to adding and stewarding the data needed. 



How Will AI Impact Jobs?

One of the pressing questions that individuals have when it comes to AI in the workplace is: how will these technologies impact the job markets? In fact, this was one of the audience questions in our panel with Icon-IQ. Audience member Nina asked, “there's been a lot of talk about what kind of jobs will be gone when we digitize work and what kind of jobs in her question is what kind of jobs do you think are going to be disrupted and what kinds of new jobs will be on the rise?” We have seen iterations of this question throughout the past year, so let's dive in and take a closer look. 

Augmenting Human Workers, Not Replacing Them

In our first video in the Mike’d up series, Mike highlights, that “We feel like our mantra is to create Iron Man, not Terminator. It's really to augment human beings and make their lives better. It's to take our best qualities and amplify those. And at the same time, it's to  have technology do things that humans aren't good at because they're dangerous, repetitive, cumbersome, strenuous, anything like that.”

Similarly, in a discussion on Agnostic Automation, a founding partner and Chief Growth Officer of The Rubic highlights that even when automation may take on a role that was previously fulfilled by a human, it does not mean that it will put the human worker out of a job. Instead, savvy leadership teams will empower human workers to devote their efforts to the business in different ways. 

Luke explained this by stating, “This gives an opportunity for for companies–and this is where I can't control what happens with the executive team–but I bet you money that the executive team of my pilot partner is saying, ‘Okay what are we going to do with Jeremy once a Rubik comes in?’ And I don't think they're going to say, ‘We're going to get rid of Jeremy.’ I think they're going to say, ‘Let's have Jeremy maintain the bot, we want someone (...) deeply intertwined with this tech and who can go through the four-week training course that The Rubic will provide.’ And they can manage it they can they can maintain it they can service it you know–and that's really that's up to them I can't promise that that's going to happen–but I give them the torch, and they can carry it across the finish line. ”

Enabling Workers To Take On More Strategic Roles

In the same discussion, Mike highlighted that many workers welcome the ability to take on a more strategic role instead of carrying out routine tasks, “(...) it just allows them to focus on something a little bit different right maybe becoming more of a process engineer within the warehouse versus actually being the one that has to do the task in the moment.” 

He also highlighted that this can also be beneficial for workers who want to gain experience in management-type roles earlier in their career: “Many people have you know aspirations–even in a Nimble tech company like ours that–you know ‘when will I be managing a team’, ‘well you started Tuesday so maybe give it a couple of weeks, right but I mean you know managing a robotic team is not dissimilar from managing a human team’ it's like get some team members on your on your team that you know have an unlimited appetite to do physical labor and all of a sudden you're free to make the bigger decisions and have more autonomy (...)”


What Can Workers Do As AI and Automation Become Widespread In the Supply Chain?

Finally, there are many ways that both workers and business owners can harness the power of AI and ML while enabling human workers carry out fulfilling tasks. In the Icon-IQ panel, participants discussed how workers can boost their skills and incorporating AI into their roles by:

  • Looking into upskilling. However, this does not necessarily mean needing to study full-time or pursue an entire degree: AMII’s Dave Stasziak notes that in addition to the conventional academic route, there has been a democratization of many resources that enable learners to gain knowledge about the space. 
  • Focus on incremental change rather than getting caught up in the hype.
  • As AI becomes part of more jobs, tech literacy and being able to work at the intersection of technical and nontechnical, and able to break down silos, is going to become more important than ever. 

Watch the whole discussion below!


How Does AI Impact Businesses?


Empowering Faster, Better Decision-Making 

Supply chains also help to enable decisions at scale by helping businesses analyze data in a faster and more thorough way than humans could. 

Our solutions aim to “take that data that is just sitting there maybe unmonitored and unusable and turn it into something that's actionable, something that's going to help either, as I mentioned previously, make a better decision autonomously or help a team of experts of people make better decisions by giving them insights, not just raw data.”

In our video series on the Scale AI project, Mike notes that in today’s complex and rapidly changing supply chain space, “Decisions have to be made quickly on volumes and volumes of data that no human could ever do by themselves.”

Mike also notes two ways this can be achieved: “ Either have the machine make them automatically, or help them give them the right information to make them themselves, and to do that rapidly with millions of data points across a vast network, almost all in real-time.”



What Do Businesses Need to Know About AI Implementation?

Despite its myriad applications, AI isn’t a magical solution that eliminates the need for setup or strategic applications. 

A topic that has come up repeatedly is the difference between pop-culture or marketing-heavy portrayals of AI tools as a magic bullet that can fix any issue with minimal human effort, and the reality that these solutions need accurate data and to be deployed in a strategic way to truly bring the most benefits possible: it is not an "easy button" or "magic dust" that solves all problems instantaneously. 


Choosing AI Solutions: How Do You Pick The Right Tool for the Job?

One of the items that was brought up at the Tech Thursday event also touched on how business owners should select AI tools for their business, and separate hype and future-facing promises with what potential solutions providers are able to do in the here and now. 

Dr. Amreesh Khanna of OraQ AI noted that AI literacy can help business leaders determine which solution best fits their needs.

He also added that in some cases, businesses shouldn't delay tackling a problem just because an AI solution doesn't exist yet: there may be other solutions or tools that will work in the meantime. 


Adam Danyleyko of AMII also noted, “something that we say a lot around here is when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And so right now, everybody has a Chat GPT hammer in their hand and they're trying to hit everything they can with it. There's some things that it's really good for and there's some things that it's not good for. And so figuring out what tool is right for what job, and then how you can translate between different parts of businesses I think are going to be some really important skill sets moving forward.”



Implementing AI: Dispelling the Misconception that AI Tools Are"Magic Dust" or "An Easy Button"

In a discussion with Matt Taylor, who is  an Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Alberta (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Amii), a Fellow-in-Residence at Amii, and Research Director at AIR mentions that sometimes, "...the company might come and come to us and really ask us for the pouch of magic AI dust if you could just sprinkle dust on our problem and solve it for us and of course that's not the way it works." He notes, "I think you know, people who are sort of less technical they have an end goal in mind, they know what they want to achieve, and sometimes some of these things can seem like magic, and so the tendency is to go ‘Well why do I have to do all can't the software just do it can't the algorithm just do it can't the model just do it for me?’”


We also saw this discussion in action at a Tech Thursday event. Our VP Product Brent Bawel highlighted the importance of having accurate, properly cleaned data, and added that many businesses simply want an “easy button”. 

Matt notes, “And there's always you know going to be some level of work that's going to be involved in stewarding and shepherding and formatting and doing the hygiene and the checks on the data (...) there's an educational process for a company to go through (...) as well a maturity process to go through from getting from ‘AI is going to be the savior of everything’ to ‘how do we actually start doing something practical?’”

Similarly, Brent stated, “That's a really common problem for us, right, is they they want all the benefit without any of the work that they're actually needing to put in.” He concluded by saying, “Even if we give you AI, you still have work to do!”


What Can Businesses Do To Effectively Adopt AI?

To get a strong start to AI adoption:

  • Businesses and individuals can gain AI literacy to be able to get an idea of what tools might help their business.
  • Businesses can examine current processes and seeing where AI can be added effectively
    • If it's a human decision process, can AI be used to add more info and context to enable that person to make a better decision?
  • As companies gain more AI understanding, they can solve existing problems and identify new ones.
  • Very mature companies might also potentially be able to discover new techniques and applications of AI solutions.

 An alternative to thoroughly outlining how AI could solve problems within the business and managing and stewarding the data themselves might also be that businesses could enlist an account manager from their supply chain technology provider to help clean and input data, but they should allow extra budget and bandwidth for this.  


Get In Touch

Want to learn more about AI in the supply chain? Check out our full video series on the Warehouse Optimization Project, follow us on LinkedIn, or sign up for our newsletter!