What do semiconductors, building materials, aluminum, and plastics have in common?
Well, they all power the functioning of a whole gamut of sectors, from tech and construction to manufacturing and the food industry. But more significantly, all of them continue to experience a surge in demand, driving an increase in prices.
Shortages are nothing new, and neither are the culprits: COVID-19 and the supply chain crisis (94% of Fortune 1000 companies are affected by supply chain disruptions). The two were a rude awakening for consumers worldwide as prices and shipping times started to soar and inventories—dwindle.
At the same time, the demand for certain products and materials shows no signs of stopping, and the logistics industry has no choice but to adapt, optimizing its processes and cutting costs without cutting corners.
One way to achieve that is by applying Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Let’s see how it can be used in logistics and SCM to minimize disruptions, streamline operations, and decrease inventory costs.
What’s RPA, and how can it boost SCM operations?
The term Robotic Process Automation may sound daunting for those unfamiliar with AI-driven technologies. However, technical intricacies aside, its basic concept is actually easy to grasp.
Regardless of the industry, most businesses involve processes that are repetitive, based on rules, performed periodically, and involve large volumes of data. Due to their monotonous nature, they get time-consuming and tiresome if done by hand, making costly slips more likely.
RPA enables optimizing these tasks by handing them over to pre-programmed algorithms (bots). They can work around the clock, don’t get tired or sick, and process bulk data in large volumes with speed, ease, and without errors.
Supply chain management and logistics: automation candidates
Since logistics happens to involve many sequences of repeatable processes, it presents lots of opportunities for RPA optimization. Here are some of the best automation candidates in supply chain management:
- Invoice processing — Invoice-related tasks are as essential as they are tedious. Finding, updating, and entering vendor and customer details, attaching scans, requesting documents, processing payments, and, finally, submitting invoices can cost your company tons of time and frustration. Fortunately, all these phases of invoice processing can be easily automated, making it one of the best RPA use cases.
- Vendor analysis and evaluation — Choosing vendors is a multi-stage process that’s usually handled manually. RPA systems can assist you at each step of the selection—preparing quotation requests, scanning documents, and verifying supplier credit—and give you more time to focus on sealing the deal.
- Inventory management — Keeping track of what’s in stock gets increasingly difficult as your company scales up and inventory becomes more diverse. RPA can streamline warehouse management by monitoring the condition, location, and quantity of specific items and notifying you when a product gets damaged or its stock runs low.
- Supply and demand planning — The ability to precisely predict shifts in supply and demand is one of the most fundamental factors in efficient supply chain management. However, achieving that depends on analyzing large sets of data, which often makes the process overwhelming and prone to mistakes. With RPA, all records are automatically collected, compiled, and then analyzed based on preset rules—quickly and accurately.
- Coordinating and scheduling — Even when shipping, resupplying, billing, maintenance, and other critical tasks are run flawlessly, they still need to be coordinated to make the entire supply chain effective. RPA can serve as a middleman between all your systems and partners, retrieving information from emails, replying to messages, filling in forms, or sending alerts to relevant stakeholders when a delay occurs to guarantee complete transparency.
- Order management — Knowing your inventory is one thing; knowing and resupplying it is another. An RPA system can use the inventory data to initiate purchase orders based on predetermined criteria: the bot compares available vendors and prices, generates order documentation, submits the order for approval, and requests the necessary products. All that to minimize supply chain disruptions and sales lost due to missing goods.
- Freight management — Once the stock is full, the next step is to get your shipments moving. RPA will help you with load matching, handling freight claims and charges, and picking the most optimal routes. After the delivery is complete, analytics bots can assess the health of your supply chain and find potential improvements.
- Shipment tracking and status updates — With so many moving parts involved in the SCM process, visibility is key. RPA will keep an eye on the cargo at each stage of its journey and upload current data to your warehouse management system.
- ERP integration — An ERP system is an indispensable tool in supply chain management, and RPA can take its capabilities even further. Automating data entry, migration, and validation reduces the risk of error virtually to zero, making the records your ERP relies on much more accurate. In addition, information is uploaded and moved significantly faster, with no manual typing (and typos) involved.
- Customer service — Handling shipment status inquiries alone can be a busy job. With the help of RPA, you can keep your customers in the know thanks to up-to-date delivery statuses and automated troubleshooting. Regarding returns and after-sales services, many tasks that don’t require human intervention (such as ticket processing, data entry, or claim verification) can be relayed to bots, too.
This list is by no means complete, but RPA is not just about making single processes more effective; it’s also about bigger-scale business impact. So let’s see why.
RPA & supply chain — what are the benefits?
The word ”chain” in logistics and SCM is used for a simple reason — its many processes resemble connected and interdependent links. That means that SCM thrives on economies of scale and that even small efficiency improvements can lead to massive increases in output across the board. So let’s zoom out for a while and look at how optimizing individual SCM-related tasks can affect your business.
Efficiency is the backbone of all business. That’s particularly true in logistics, where even a small improvement can have a ripple effect on all subsequent processes.
We’ve already come up with an extensive list of labor-intensive SCM tasks. Meanwhile, studies show that RPA systems can help reduce effortful jobs by 80%. Can you see the connection?
Whether it’s load capturing, stock monitoring, reporting, or handling customer support, RPA can make the process faster, saving you hundreds of hours on end.
Higher productivity translates directly into lower operational costs. Although RPA implementation involves an investment, it usually brings a full ROI within months if done right. After that, savings kick off since tasks are handled faster, current staff can be relegated to other duties, and you don’t need to make new hires.
Automation can also drive lower costs by providing the information you need to make the right choice. For example, picking the best shipping rates, material prices, vendors, and third-party carriers generates savings, but the selection can be hard when data is scattered in various places. RPA can not only pull that data and present it as a digestible report but also suggest improvements by automatically analyzing the cost efficiency of your supply chain in real time.
The smooth functioning of a supply chain relies on data stored and moved between multiple systems: TMS, WMS, ERP, and CRM, not to mention spreadsheets and paper documents. If records from all these sources are processed manually, you have a recipe for errors. And in logistics, one mistake usually affects all other processes down the line, leading to delays and losses.
This is where RPA comes to the rescue. You can easily integrate automation software into your existing systems to handle tedious work centered around endless entering, copying, and pasting. With properly set rules, bots will make virtually no mistakes and free up your staff so they can focus on more meaningful tasks…
… which will also positively affect their morale and job satisfaction. Skilled and experienced employees are the most valuable asset of any business. Why waste their time on tiresome chores rather than let them work where they can put their talents to the best use?
RPA frees your workforce to contribute their potential to decision-making, innovation, negotiations, and expansion—tasks that drive growth for your organization and a sense of accomplishment for your employees.
Higher customer satisfaction
This comes naturally as a consequence of all other benefits: An efficient, error-free supply chain and satisfied employees contribute to an enhanced customer experience.
However, there’s a lot more you can do to cater to your clients with RPA. Think automated communication, delivery tracking, onboarding, or returns and refunds. To top that off, RPA-enabled analytics will help you leverage data to better understand your customers.
RPA in logistics and SCM — examples
Considering the wide range of benefits RPA systems bring, they have found uses in companies from various industries, including supply chain and logistics. Numerous success stories reflect this. Let’s review some of them.
DHL—optimized internal services with RPA
DHL Global Forwarding, Freight (DGFF) is a leader in the freight-forwarding services industry, hiring over 4,500 employees across its five Global Service Centers.
Seeking improvements to its internal processes, the company turned to UiPath, a leading RPA platform, to test the waters with a pilot automation program.
The results were far better than expected: bots helped reassign the employees necessary for conducting the test process to more significant tasks, reducing the staffing in this area from 30 to 15 people, providing the workload of 300 FTEs, and bringing full ROI within just one month. Most importantly, the success of the pilot implementation convinced DHL executives to pursue broader RPA adoption.
SF Supply Chain—10k automated orders per month
SF Supply Chain offers SCM services to consumer goods enterprises based in mainland China, Macao, and Hong Kong.
SF Supply Chain embraced RPA and streamlined its data processing workflows to keep up with diverse customer requirements.
The initial deployment was a success, with RPA bots managing more than 10,000 orders each month on a single site. As a result, the solution has been adopted on other sites, and the company now plans further RPA implementation in order printing, parcel collection, and scheduling.
Posti Group—RPA-based digital transformation
When Posti Group, a Finnish mail, parcel, and freight delivery provider, decided to overhaul its internal legacy systems, implementing RPA was the natural first choice.
With the help of UiPath, Posti first automated its voucher-posting process to get executives on board with a wider RPA automation. And it worked: RPA now aids multiple departments in the company, from finance and sales to HR and customer service.
More successes followed, such as streamlining invoice verification or reducing invoice leakage. But perhaps the most significant one was radically improving employee experience, who now have more time for more specialized tasks.
Ready to get started with RPA logistics today?
You now know what SCM processes to automate with RPA, what’s in it for your business, and how other (prominent) companies use it to streamline their logistics operations. All you need now is one more thing: a reliable partner that will guide you through the RPA implementation.
We’re a team of experienced RPA developers and consultants with dozens of successful automation launches under our belt — and we’re ready for more. So get in touch and tell us about your SCM processes. We’ll prepare a free, custom automation Proof of Concept to show you how RPA can power up the logistics in your business!
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