Digital process automation can create a platform for smarter supply chain management – helping to reduce friction and drive down costs while balancing customer expectations with the needs of all network stakeholders.
As supply chains become more complex, manufacturers around the world are feeling pressure to digitally transform their processes across logistics, engineering, and other functions. In a recent Deloitte Industry 4.0 survey, 62% of organizations cited their supply chains as their highest priority for future digital investments.
There is a range of technologies that can be pulled in to streamline supply chain management, providing capabilities that run the gamut from process automation and software robotics to IoT, machine learning, and big data analytics. Working together, these technologies have the potential to increase the levels of connectedness, collaboration and visibility experienced along the supply chain – creating an environment that is often called “Supply Chain 4.0”.
The data challenge
Data collection and analysis are critical to the success of the global supply chain, as they can spearhead manufacturing and production line productivity, dictate warehouse and shipping movements, and track logistics and inventory management. They can also help inform smarter decision making around these areas.
However, without the appropriate tools to manage sizable volumes of data, organizations battle to tap into its potential. Additionally, traditional data or content management systems have blind spots at the intersection of the various processes mentioned above, which erodes visibility.
One way to address these issues is to combine current content management systems and services with a digital process automation (DPA) platform. This type of technology can provide a low-code environment for developing custom applications that meet specific process and data management needs.
The benefits of combining data management with DPA
1. Connected data networks
A DPA platform offers easy integration with resources such as SharePoint, Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox. This supports a more uniform approach to data management, which facilitates efficient information sharing across different processes and departments. It also improves transparency across the supply chain, for seamless collaboration with suppliers and service providers. All stakeholder decisions are informed by the same data.
One organization – ZF Lenksysteme, a manufacturer of steering columns, gears, and pumps for commercial vehicles – leveraged a DPA solution to standardize multiple processes across 17 different locations. This process automation platform was integrated into the finance, operations management, and legal departments, increasing transparency and efficiency across the enterprise.
2. Custom solutions to suit specific business needs
Low-code DPA software provides manufacturers with the flexibility to build custom business process applications to suit a range of different departmental needs, from IT and finance to purchasing and inventory management. With this approach, unique business needs can be met. For example, JKM Industrial Supplies – a global provider of manufacturing, building, and plumbing solutions – leveraged DPA to streamline their online sales and order fulfillment processes. This helped to improve stock control and enhance the customer experience.
In the low-code environment, process solutions can be created quickly, without the protracted development cycles that are often associated with traditional application builds. Low-code applications are also easily updated, and can, therefore, adapt as users provide feedback or new challenges arise to increase operational agility.
3. More intelligent data management
With DPA technology in place, organizations can collect, analyze, and control data in any area of the organization. For example, information around employee shift and production line productivity, order delivery status, payment processing, and so forth can be leveraged for continual business optimization. The organization can easily view that data and identify areas where automation – through applications or digital process tools – could help improve efficiency and worker safety. This also provides more predictability, structure, and usability around data to make business processes run faster and smarter.
Magna Steyr is one company that has benefitted from this approach. The automobile manufacturer used a DPA solution to accelerate its order processing speed by up to 90 percent. On this new platform, purchase order data is documented and traceable, which provides Magna Steyr with the ability to analyze customers’ purchasing patterns to inform, automate, and improve future sales and customer support interactions.
The focus on digital transformation across industries and the shift to smart manufacturing practices has organizations throughout the supply chain evaluating automation technologies. Data management through digital process automation allows organizations to create solutions that meet their needs instead of adapting to a one-size-fits-all model. It also provides easy access and control over data, which increases collaboration both internally and with partners, customers, and other players in the supply chain.
In the future, manufacturers can easily integrate new, intelligent technologies into their DPA applications as their appetite for innovation grows. Ultimately, this allows these organizations to make continual improvements in the areas of efficiency, service, cost control, and agility – to remain profitable and competitive.