December 20, 2016
Star Wars continues to deliver box office gold with its latest installment, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” surpassing $155 million over the weekend in North America. One of the most amazing things about the franchise is how well its portrayal of advanced technologies, first imagined in the 1970s, have stood the test of time. Take a look at R2-D2 which, unlike the robot taxi driver from Total Recall, is still believable. Meanwhile, in reality, self-learning, autonomous machines are the direction businesses are heading now with priorities set on cognitive computing and digital business transformation.
Automation has been pivotal to strengthening supply chains in the past few decades, particularly in terms of robots’ abilities to handle many of the repetitive tasks associated with production. And with self-driving vehicles, industry 4.0, and other innovations, it’s clear there’s a new wave of autonomy around individual components of the overall means of production.
But as the wise Obi Won Kenobi once said, “these are not the droids you’re looking for” – or at least not the only ones. While industrial-automation advancements are important, they alone can’t address the supply chain’s most high-maintenance requirement: management.
Start pairing modern industrial automation systems with the cognitive computing capabilities of an autonomous supply chain, and then you’ll find the droids you’re looking for.
The Supply Chain Needs a R2-D2 (or BB-8)
When Luke Skywalker hops into the X-Wing with R2-D2, he has complete control over the starfighter. But R2-D2 is there is to help him navigate, put out fires when the engine gets hit, keep him up to date on the integrity of the ship and even pilot if Luke is dealing with more pressing matters. What companies need now is to mount smart machines, like R2-D2 or BB-8 (Rey’s companion from “The Force Awakens”), into their supply chain helm.
To be sure, we’re still a long ways off from replicating the fully autonomous robots of Star Wars but the first step can be taken toward an autonomous supply chain today with cognitive applications. By applying machine learning and AI to the supply chain, companies can re-imagine old processes like demand forecasting or sales and operations planning, enabling a level of agility and accuracy not possible before. Beyond just enhancing old processes, cognitive applications add a new layer of intelligence on top of traditional, siloed information systems like ERP, CRM and warehouse management. Much like how R2-D2 helps Luke pilot his X-Wing, cognitive applications help decision-makers find opportunities to grow revenue, reduce working capital and even gain market share.
The means of production have come a long way thanks to the handy droids in manufacturing facilities. But now we need a different kind of droid – one that can help manage the entire supply chain so business leaders can focus on the most important endeavors, like growing their brand, looking for new value propositions and improving research and design.