Transforming industries with an AI-enabled data supply chain

This is a guest blogpost by Vaibhav Vohra, Chief Product and Technology Officer at ERP provider Epicor
Essential industries are going through a period of radical transformation, as businesses that make, sell, and move products are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) to overcome ongoing economic and supply chain challenges. We are seeing an increasing level of investments into scaling industry-specific AI technologies and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions from manufacturers, distributors, and retailers looking to sharpen their competitive edge.

Every business must have a clear understanding of what’s going on inside and outside of their operations before adopting powerful solutions such as AI. This means knowing what data they already have access to, where silos exist, and how to strengthen critical partnerships that will facilitate a seamless and secure exchange of data. Those who build collaborative internal and external communities where insights are easily shared and acted upon will ultimately be best positioned to capitalise on AI as an assistant. This will also ensure they can extract the full value from their technology investments.

A digitally connected data supply chain strategy

According to a recent PWC research report, 80% of ‘Digital Champions’ (companies that have taken digitisation to the highest degree), describe their supply chain focus as an external integration or even end-to-end orchestration, compared with just 36% of all (non-Digital Champion) companies. This shows how the most mature and forward-looking businesses have gradually moved away from analogue, siloed supply chains in favour of digitally connected, autonomous and self-optimising ecosystems of data.

An effective data supply chain strategy works through a connected ecosystems of partner communities and removes data silos by bringing key functions such as finance, design, testing & manufacturing together. Once gaps between the shop floor and the top floor have been closed, insights will flow more freely. By harnessing the power of converging technologies and bridging data gaps, companies will be able to make faster data-driven decisions for greatly improved business outcomes.

Turning data collection into informed execution

AI has almost unlimited potential. It can help to establish vital data bridges across departmental silos, automatically analyse disparate business data and provide actionable insights to enhance operational performance. Nevertheless, it heavily relies upon having access to quality data and can only be properly leveraged as part of a holistic data-first business strategy.
ERP systems are designed to incorporate AI into this process, so they can quickly analyse large volumes of data and convert it from a system of records into an organised system of actions. This shift from generation and collection, to strategic and will-informed execution offers many advantages when it comes to information management, analysis, and security.

Low-code/ no-code solutions are a great example of how AI is being used to significantly increase workflow efficiencies, as they provide automations or ‘recipes’ that can orchestrate manual human or machine tasks into an end-to-end digital flow. By automating certain manual processes from the shopfloor that could take hours to complete, workers will have more time available to focus their attention on other important areas of the business.

Working with trusted partners

Setting expectations and building effective AI frameworks, will mean businesses are best positioned for long-term success. In our experience, after a new ERP solution or platform has gone live, many companies turn to their internal IT teams to provide dedicated technical support. However, this can often put unnecessary pressure on their operations and lead to a drop in productivity.

One of the most important factors in any technology investment is to continue working closely with a trusted strategic digital transformation partner who understands your specific industry requirements after the sales and implementation process is finished. As we found in our 2023 Epicor Industry Insights Report, most business leaders are positive about their purchasing journey experience overall, but are looking for more technical support and partnership – particularly during the post-implementation phase.

Many participants in our research identified security and risk mitigation (26%) to be their biggest challenges when implementing new ERP solutions. Other top concerns included the time and costs associated with implementation and training (24%), the ability to customise to fit business needs (24%) and integrating with other business applications (24%). The findings show the importance of working with a trusted partner who knows your industry, understands your objectives, and can alleviate any anxiety about AI-powered data integrations, cybersecurity, or adaptability.

By working closely with partners, providers, and even competitors to share data and combine physical and digital supply chains, business leaders will have the insights needed to better navigate uncertainty or disruption and plan more effectively for the future.

AI euphoria and the FOMO

Motivated by the recent hype surrounding ChatGPT, there is a growing feeling of ‘AI euphoria’ and digital ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) accelerating adoption. However, regardless of size or sector, business leaders must take a measured and practical approach. To ensure success, they should also clearly demonstrate the key benefits of an AI-led approach that balances automated data exchange with privacy and security, as part of a long-term and scalable data supply chain strategy. This will help getting C-suite and stakeholder support before investing in any digital transformation initiatives.

AI is an incredibly powerful tool that meets the demands of our digital-first global economy. When manufacturers, distributors, and retailers embark on digital transformation journeys, they are laying the foundations for more agile, efficient, and resilient operations. Making the right tactical investments in industry-specific AI solutions and engaging with trusted partners from enquiry to post-sales support, helps businesses increase the odds of achieving their data supply chain goals. We are already starting to see how these initiatives are positively transforming essential industries, at home and abroad.

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