Strengthening the supply chain can lead to improved accessibility for the end customer.

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Technology can be used to assist with decreasing disruptions to the flow of goods from point of origin to point of consumption. On the sidelines of the annual SAPICS conference in Cape Town, in an exclusive interview with Supply Chain Africa, Doug Hunter, Manager: Professional Services SYSPRO Africa, shared his views on technology trends and challenges facing the industry.

New technology is transforming supply chains daily. Keeping up with new capabilities and best practices can, however, be difficult – especially when companies have invested deeply in older technology.

“It’s a never-ending process,” says Hunter, “because technology is always improving. One also has to remember that unless it is being applied it is really useless. More sophisticated ways of making things easier and better are continuously being developed not to mention the developments in artificial intelligence, BOTS and the Internet of Things.”

According to Hunter improving accessibility to ever-evolving technology is a crucial step to strengthening supply chains.

“There is technology across the supply chain from the buying of raw materials to the making of a product, the packing, shipping and selling of it to the consumer,” he says. “The better the technology the better the service. You cannot, for example, miss an order if you have visibility across your system.”

Ongoing developments, he says, have resulted in processes being more accessible to all parties than ever before so delivery of quality assured goods and services can nowadays be just about guaranteed.

But, the supply chain has not always evolved or adapted as quickly to technology as it could. Many smaller companies still rely on old-school spreadsheets with no decent supply chain processes in place.

“Technology can totally transform those businesses,” says Hunter. “The introduction of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) will immediately strengthen their supply chain and accessibility to the end consumer immediately.”

Gone are the days, for example, of ordering and holding stock hoping it will suffice. Instead the right mix of stock is available at the right time – always.

Broadly speaking, ERP refers to automation and integration of a company’s core business processes to help them focus on effectiveness and simplified success, says Hunter explaining that the ‘ERP’ itself is not self-explanatory and refers to the business software that has been designed to record your enterprise data and transactions and enable its processes.

Technology ripple effect

Embracing technology, says Hunter, first and foremost allows one company to plan creating visibility across other players supply chain that can be accessed by more people including suppliers, customers and LSPs.

“There are always going to be disruptions,” he says. “But this can be addressed with visibility and collaboration. It introduces predictability that ultimately leads to better service from the same amount of investment in stock – Less uncertainty means less stock”

He says a large proportion of business that does not embrace new developing technology may fail. “One can no longer just use technology for technology sake. The artificial intelligence being introduced is allowing system self-learning to increase business efficiency that is a competitive advantage.”

Technology is allowing companies to react quicker – AI is introducing processes that are in fact allowing businesses to react before a disruption has even happened. “Without technology companies are going to be left behind, while the scale of operations are increasingly becoming too big for manual processes and spreadsheets.”

Also flexibility and mobility, crucial to the modern day supply chain, are introduced through technology.

According to Hunter embracing technology will increasingly mean building more smart technology into systems.

Looking ahead

Thanks to the Internet of Things the scale of operations can be intensified. “We have now for some time had RFID tags on pallets or boxes giving an indication of what is inside with a quick scan,” he explains. “What started as simplistic barcodes and then RFID tags is evolving to such an extent thanks to the Internet of Things introducing capabilities that will change supply chains forever.”

With the new technology, says Hunter, comes the ability to capture useful data from just about anything.

“With the right software one will be able to predict what is going to happen, bringing the ability to act faster and smarter ultimately staying ahead of competitors.”

He says ongoing research into the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence armed with machine learning will allow for real innovation especially in the developing world.

“Technology will be able to address some of Africa’s greatest needs,” he says. “It is already overcoming some of the major infrastructure challenges and improving supply chains all the time. There are some wonderful opportunities to innovate with technology on the continent.”

He says in this regard Syspro continues to invest in research and development in the fields of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to aid manufacturers and distributors. “Our goal is to give our clients a real competitive advantage. We don’t want to be just another ERP company, but assist our clients in finding their leading edge. That is what builds strong economies and we think that is where we can make a difference.”

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