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ASCM Insights

Embracing the Power of AI


Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to significantly improve supply chain planning, customer order management and inventory tracking. That makes some human supply chain professionals nervous. But, an article in Harvard Business Review reassures us that these experts will not become obsolete.

“While AI will be deployed to manage certain tasks, including higher-level decision making, the technology’s true power is in augmenting human capabilities – and that holds true in supply chain,” write Gary Hanifan and Kris Timmermans. They argue that both machines and humans are essential. Further, by collaborating, they suggest, their combined power can be harnessed to create value for businesses.

Hanifan and Timmermans have identified three value-enhancing jobs that rely on the collaboration of AI and humans:

  1. Trainers, who will assist AI systems in operating well. This might include helping natural language processors and language translators make fewer errors, and teaching AI algorithms how they can better mimic human behaviors.
  2. Explainers, who interpret the results of algorithms to improve transparency and accountability.
  3. Sustainers, who ensure AI systems maintain their value without reinforcing bias or violating ethics considerations.

The authors mention that the power of AI should also be combined with advanced analytics, enabling supply chain professionals to spend less time solving problems and more time adding business value.

“These planners will lead the charge in moving away from a traditional supply chain operating model, which is inflexible and slow, to a new dynamic model with true end-to-end segmentations,” Hanifan and Timmermans write. “That means planning multiple supply chains that meet the needs of specific customer micro-segments as well as managing business relationships and exceptions.”

Many supply chain leaders are welcoming these new, intelligent technologies and pushing their organizations to continue to evolve. However, to fully embrace the future, leaders must work to reskill and shift people to other areas of the business where they can more effectively add value. Hanifan and Timmermans offer more suggestions on how supply chain leaders can continue to enhance their teams in an era of combined human and AI resources.

First, reach out to the future supply chain workforce. This might include attracting data scientists, risk managers and business development leads to supply chain. This step also includes retaining those promising new workers by providing collaboration tools and reinforcing new behaviors throughout the talent development cycle.

Next, the authors advise leaders to “remove the robot from the human.” This means identifying where AI can make a difference now and in the future, and planning for that eventuality. The authors suggest humans focus on high-value areas such as customer experience and innovation. 

Lastly, start planning where AI innovation will have the most impact, especially considering AI will improve process efficiencies. “AI can help businesses move beyond automation to elevate human capabilities that unlock new value,” Hanifan and Timmermans write.

Supply chain’s future

How are you planning for your future career? How is your business integrating AI into its operations? Let’s get to the very basic definition of AI, which appears in the APICS Dictionary: “Computer programs that can learn and reason in a manner similar to humans. The problem is defined in terms of states and operators to generate a search space that is examined for the best solution. In contrast, conventional programming collects and processes data by algorithm or fixed step-by-step procedures.”

APICS gives you and your organization resources to embrace the future of supply chain. APICS 2018, September 30-October 2 in Chicago, features a dynamic lineup of business leaders, authors and innovators who will share their knowledge and expertise. For example, APICS Executive Vice President Peter Bolstorff, CSCP, SCOR-P, will present “Driving Competitive Advantage: Accelerating the Rate of Return on Digital Investments.” In this session, attendees will get an inside look at the areas supply chain-excellent companies are working on, the benefits they are counting on and the technology investments that will enable them. Also, APICS Senior Director Bob Collins, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, CAE, presents “Will a Robot Take My Job? Robots, Artificial Intelligence, Supply Chain and You!” Attendees at this session will examine where these technologies are going and how jobs might change in this environment of escalating automation.

Find out more and register for APICS 2018 by visiting

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted through

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