Driving Better Supply Chain Execution Through Digital Networks


The twentieth century saw the expansion of supply chains beyond national boundaries. The feverish pace of globalization that started in the eighties created new manufacturing economies primarily powered by low labor costs feeding insatiable consumption in the developed markets. Just-in-time philosophy which up until then used to drive manufacturing production lines (without interruption), expanded beyond factory walls into the broader supply chains. Standards and methods for identification of products, pallets, information exchange, etc., along with significant automation of warehouses helped move goods with less friction and made Quick Response a reality. The coming of age of the internet and smartphones in the 21st century further fueled unprecedented growth with direct access to consumers leading to the longest bull market in history. Efficiency was the only measure that mattered when it came to separating supply chain winners from the rest.

Move over, efficiency

All of that came to a standstill in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. It was a perfect storm that saw a concurrent disruption of supply, demand, and logistics on a global scale. The rest is history. For most manufacturers, supply chain resilience has become the new mantra worth the additional cost that it entails. So, what does resilience mean? Simply put, resilience is the sum total of visibility (which is required for better planning), agility (in creating supply diversification and, perhaps, redundancy), and intelligence (to anticipate and respond in near real-time) to events across the broader ecosystem.

Much work has already happened in driving better visibility to demand. Knowing yesterday’s sales today at a store-item level is a reality that has delivered significantly improved short-term forecast accuracies. Nonetheless, with both new product introductions and e-commerce sales growing at a faster clip than ever before, demand signal fragmentation too has increased, thereby paring back gains made with better visibility. With inventory deployment decisions going in lockstep with demand forecasts, concurrent stockouts, and excess inventory situations have continued to hobble planners. How do we then address this dichotomy?

Role of the ERPs

Enterprises have long had multifarious supply chain partnerships typically organized in their respective resource planning systems (ERP). These systems, while integrating functions within the enterprise, have little to offer when it comes to driving external collaboration. While transactions are inherently dual-party, ERPs have, by design, perpetuated sell-side and buy-side functional silos, thereby preventing true end-to-end visibility even within an enterprise. Insomuch, that they represent islands of data on which enterprises live and operate both within and outside. The need of the hour is a fabric that digitally connects ERPs across a relevant ecosystem to bring simultaneous visibility and operability for the benefit of all participants. This is what a digital network is all about.

What is a Digital Network?

A digital network is an over-the-top (OTT) architecture that enables many-to-many connectivity among its participants. It is founded on a common data model that harmonizes participant information so much so to enable interoperability of respective underlying ERPs. Of course, a digital network must ensure that any visibility is self-regulated at the discretion of the parties concerned. With this, parties can potentially start focusing on bridging planning gaps (read forecast errors) with responsive execution.

Execution in a Networked World

For parties connected with each other on a digital network, the ways they can collaborate is only limited by their imagination. Let us look at a few examples of what a digital network like TradeEdge Network can mean to you:


Digitization of value networks is happening faster than we know. Enterprises recognize that the benefits from creating or participating in such networks far outweigh any risks to information or data security. Digital networks like TradeEdge are inherently architected and designed for privacy, integrity, and performance. As these networks continue to evolve, so do the use cases that participants discover. The above is but a small sampling to demonstrate #Possibilities Unlimited!

Connect with our AVP & Global Platform Head, TradeEdge, Suresh P Bharadwaj, for further discussion.

The Connected Workforce: Augmenting Employees with AI & Automation

In a world where data is fundamentally changing the way we work, enterprises are beset by a bevy of new challenges. These include siloed technology implementations, poor transparency between business verticals and horizontals, and a workforce that is consumed by routine tasks and has little time for innovation or productivity optimization.

In response, organizations are transforming into Connected Enterprises, where seamless data integrations help stakeholders access the right data on an ‘anytime, anywhere’ basis. Enterprises are also slowly coming to the realization that intelligent automation of high-volume, repeatable tasks is an essential component of staying competitive and improving stakeholder experiences. AI-driven systems are increasingly being adapted to roles traditionally held by human workers. In fact, experts at McKinsey estimate that AI has the potential to add upwards of $13 trillion to the global economy by 2030.1

Will AI & Automation make humans redundant?

Over the past decade, pundits have made varying predictions concerning the future of the workforce, with some painting a bleak picture where AI entirely replaces the human employee. In most cases, these fears are unfounded – sure, AI and Automation are expected to eliminate 85 million jobs by 2025, but in that time, they’re also going to create 97 million new jobs.2 While AI can process more data faster, and often more reliably than humans, they lack core decision-making skills that are based on intuition, cultural and social sensitivity, and emotional intelligence. Because of these gaps in AI capability, we see AI as a tool that will augment the workforce and help every individual achieve better outcomes, faster.

The rise of the hybrid workforce

The obvious logic points to a merging of AI and human competencies to create a hybrid workforce – one where AI amplifies human potential instead of snuffing it out. For example, manufacturing firms are using AI and automation to predictively identify potential equipment failures so that maintenance crews can proactively address production line faults before they manifest.

Similarly, insurance companies have leveraged intelligent RPA to assess claims data so that insurance officers can rapidly make decisions on which claims to approve and which to reject. In healthcare, doctors are using state-of-the-art AI to compare ongoing cancer cases with historical medical databases – the AI is able to offer both diagnostic and treatment recommendations, reducing the potential for human error and saving lives in the process.

Taking a three-pronged approach to Amplifying Human Potential

The challenge for enterprises will be strategically determining how to use digital platforms to augment their human workforce in the context of their business needs. Ideally, businesses should adopt a multi-pronged approach, structured into three phases.

Understand the role automation plays

The first step is understanding how machines can augment your employees. For example, workflow automation in the helpdesk can vastly reduce administrative error rates. Similarly, automated data extraction and delivery tools can help support personnel quickly profile customers, identify their concerns and find contextually relevant solutions, slashing response times, boosting agent productivity, and improving overall CSAT.

A case in point is Openreach, a British telecommunications major that used automation to reduce its average handling time for customer requests by over 66%. As a direct result, their agents were able to spend more time cross-selling and upselling, enhancing both revenue and the employee experience.

Discovery-led digitization is key

Ideally, enterprises looking to augment their workforce should focus on assessing the current and future operational potential to uncover new automation possibilities and create a cohesive picture of how people, processes, and products intersect.

Platforms like AssistEdge Discover offer enterprise leaders an empirical way to figure out which processes can be automated and which tasks need consistent human intervention. By mining software usage data within the workforce, the platform uses AI to create a map of functions with the highest automation potential, giving leaders a quick and easy roadmap to follow.

Make effective automation ubiquitous

While using a platform like AssistEdge helps organizations better understand the scale and scope of automation they can realistically achieve, every roadmap needs an implementation strategy. Ideally, enterprises should focus on taking a low-code approach that makes it easier for each business unit to independently automate their processes without heavy reliance on IT departments. While the first tentative steps toward amplifying human potential will lie in automating repetitive, high-volume tasks, enterprises should create a roadmap that scales to automating entire processes and, eventually, their entire operational works. The end goal here is to bake cognitive automation into every operational front, freeing up your workforce for higher-order tasks that require empathy and creative problem-solving.

What kind of real-world results can enterprises expect?

Our partnership with Openreach, a leading telecom company in the UK and a wholly owned subsidiary of the BT Group, offers an excellent view of how the right confluence of AI and Automation can amplify human workforce potential.

During the pandemic, Openreach wanted to prioritize repair and provisions to ensure its customers stay connected. To serve a customer, Openreach’s 3500+ agents had to follow complex processes and use almost 150+ applications, which led to high average handling time and multiple errors and made their customers unhappy.

Using AssistEdge, our connected automation platform, Openreach was able to automate and streamline over 200+ complex processes, enabling the front-end and back-end operations team to service clients quickly and contextually.

The powerful combination of RPA+ML helped create a framework for addressing future use cases with similar business challenges, improving the quality and consistency of customer service. It also improved compliance by ensuring that the SLA of 24hrs was met for all orders. AssistEdge helped amplify human potential by reducing the AHT from 30 mins to 9 mins per/request, saving ~60K hours annually, which meant agents could be re-assigned for high-value tasks such as cross-selling and upselling.

AI & Automation will widen the competitive gap

Estimates show that companies that fail to perfect the coordination of AI and humans in their workforce will see a 20% average decrease in cash flow by the end of the decade.3 These numbers are a clear indication that warning bells have begun to ring for enterprises that are slow to leap on the bandwagon. On the flipside, companies that improve employee engagement with higher levels of automation and AI-driven insights are likely to experience greater customer satisfaction, faster innovation, and dramatically accelerated speed-to-market.

Amplifying human potential thus helps create a far superior, intelligent, and empowered workforce that has greater collaboration, high productivity, innovation, and agility. With the connected enterprise ushering in a new way of doing things and enabling humanity, AI, and automation to work in unison, enterprises can unleash unlimited possibilities and create a better world.

Connect with our Vice President & Global Platform Head, N. Shashidhar, for further discussion.