Supply Chain Automation Guide: Benefits, Examples and Tools

Supply chain automation enables companies to improve operations by delivering seamless workflows, modern apps and real-time reporting.

Today most organizations have a patchwork of systems. The gaps between applications lead to inefficiencies and a lack of visibility when it comes to bottlenecks. This Increases the cost and risk of the whole supply chain. 

Using low-code automation software, businesses are closing these gaps with agile workflows that deliver the visibility that’s missing, whilst improving the efficiency and experience for everyone involved in those processes.  


What is supply chain automation?

Supply chain automation is the use of digital technologies to improve efficiencies, connect applications and streamline processes within supply chain operations. It usually incorporates intelligent technologies such as Digital Process Automation, Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning.


Supply chain challenges

Increasing costs

Price increases across raw materials, fuel and labor driven by material scarcity, energy price hikes and higher wages are having a huge impact on operating costs. Businesses are faced with passing these costs on to customers by increasing their prices or absorbing them and restricting profit margins.

Demand fluctuations

Seasonality and changes in consumer trends and behavior can make it difficult to accurately forecast sales and manage the level of supply needed. This can lead to overstocking and inventory becoming obsolete or stockouts and lost customers and profit.

Changing regulations

Failing to keep up with and adhere to the most up-to-date import and export restrictions, health and safety regulations and quality standards across all markets you do business in can result in not being able to do business in certain markets or being hit with hefty fines.

Growing need for sustainability

As consumers become more conscious of the impact of their purchasing decisions on the environment and the people in the supply chain, businesses need to review production techniques and be transparent about their efforts to meet ESG goals to protect brand reputation.

Gaps in your tech stack

Disconnected technologies and process silos hinder supply chain visibility and make it difficult for supply chain managers to review performance. This has an impact on identifying and mitigating risks and making improvements to increase efficiency. 

Need tips on how to manage the most common supply chain challenges?


What are the benefits of supply chain automation?

There are multiple benefits that can be seen when supply chain automation software is introduced to operations. Here are the four primary benefits:

1. Automate manual workarounds

The reality is that today’s supply chains are not digitally optimized. Essential processes commonly depend on the passing around of spreadsheets, PDFs and emails, and ERP systems are not flexible or agile enough to support the way the business works. What this means is that employees do a lot of work that could be made easier or removed from their plate. Even better, by managing this work through custom low-code apps, leaders get the visibility they need to see where the risks and inefficiencies are.

“Supply chain management processes contain various documents such as delivery order, dock receipt, bill of lading (B/L), sea waybill, etc,” states AImultiple. Employees in the supply chain department continuously store and process these documents for various reasons, yet, this is a time-consuming, manual task that inhibits businesses to reach operational excellence.” 

These tasks still are often carried out on pen and paper by employees in the warehouse, taking up valuable time and often leading to human error when recording and submitting information. The benefits of automation, both in and out of the warehouse include increased efficiency - manifested by increased fill rates and decreased cycle times, as well as increased warehouse throughput time, reduced labor and operational costs, elimination of human error, and improved inventory management.

The benefits of automation were realized by Bizagi customer, adidas. The largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe needed to transform its supply chain across 400 factories. Using Bizagi and an agile methodology allowed for less development, more efficiency, and cost reduction. They created standardized, reusable processes to deliver automation across departments. These automated processes eliminated manual tasks and reduced operational costs, such as eliminating a million emails per year through system integration. They also halved factory onboarding time and sped up the two-month sports asset contract approval cycle to just one week.

2. Transparency and visibility of operations

Traditional supply chains often face unpredictable lead times and lack the transparency to know how inventory is progressing. Digital technology means that now even the everyday consumer is used to being able to see where their online delivery is in its journey from the warehouse to their front door. So why shouldn’t businesses expect the same visibility earlier on in the supply chain?

The reason for the lack of transparency in the past couple of decades has been due to poor connectivity. As more systems and applications were introduced to increase efficiency, they created silos and left gaps between systems, which meant that information could not be passed between them and it was hard to follow the status of a process end-to-end. 

A low-code automation platform can connect all systems and create a centralized location for your employees to access information, providing complete process visibility and orchestration.  This provides real-time data to employees, giving them up-to-date status updates, as well as allowing them to act with certainty when executing tasks that rely on important information.

Transparency not only benefits employees, but also customers as they can easily get an overview of how their order is progressing through the supply chain. Traceability is now essential for customer satisfaction and a low-code automation platform can provide appropriate visibility. 

3. Agility to respond to the unexpected 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. For some organizations, restrictions meant scaling operations back and operating on a bare-bones basis. For others, it meant ramping up production and shipping capabilities to meet increased demand.

Using a low-code automation platform provides the benefit of adaptability to respond to unforeseen circumstances, which is built-in when you connect information and data across your organization.

4. Ensure regulations are always met

Diminishing risk and meeting compliance standards is particularly hard in a post-COVID world. Even more so for manufacturers and suppliers with global sites observing different regulations, ranging from health and safety to best business practice. Auditing is then required to prove these standards have been met.

Establishing business processes that are then executed, either in part or fully, by automation technology can help improve both risk management and the overall supply chain management. All stakeholders can ensure best practices are followed while integrating compliance for effective and risk-averse operations. 

Documenting and automating workflows is the ideal way to ensure specific requirements are met, and that operations can be agile enough to evolve. Additionally, the real-time visibility brought to the supply chain by a low-code automation platform can help organizations to mitigate risk and ensure compliance by identifying issues as they arise and preventing them from escalating further. 


Supply chain automation examples

Supply chain automation can enhance transparency, boost productivity and enable greater agility across supply chain operations including:

Sourcing and procurement:

-    Collate and evaluate vendor proposals in a centralized repository using a standardized scoring system 
-    Create and manage contracts using automated workflows
-    Generate and send purchase orders
-    Streamline payments with automated invoice matching
-    Collate and analyze spending data to measure against budgets and identify cost-saving opportunities 

Vendor management:

-    Collect and verify vendor documentation and certifications during onboarding
-    Collect performance data to track vendor performance against key performance indicators (KPIs)
-    Monitor vendor compliance with internal and external policies

ESG management:

-    Monitor and track compliance with ESG standards across the supply chain
-    Understand and mitigate risks
-    Create reports on ESG performance 

Quality management:

-    Communicate quality standards across the supply chain to ensure they are consistently met
-    Predict potential quality issues based on historical data
-    Identify defects during production 

Logistics and distribution:

-    Automate order processing to improve accuracy and gather sales data
-    Automate order picking to reduce errors and increase efficiency
-    Gain real-time visibility into stock levels and trigger reorders when inventory runs low

Product and pricing management:

-    Integrate systems to collate market data to inform pricing strategy
-    Manage promotional activity 
-    Report on product sales


Supply chain automation success stories





Supply chain management software

Supply chain management software is used to coordinate operations across the supply chain. What’s interesting is that whilst there are a range of SCM software providers offering off-the-shelf solutions, the majority are unable to meet the full requirements of any supply chain leader. They lack the composability to create workflows for specific requirements that can make or break a supply chain. That’s where low-code technology like Bizagi can help, providing templated solutions but also offering the unlimited capability to transform any process across the supply chain.


Bring resilience to your supply chain


Connectivity and automation bring the efficiency and agility that so many supply chain operators crave. If you would like to find out more about how a low-code platform can help transform your supply chain, download our free ebook, The Strategic Guide to Supply Chain Automation for Manufacturing & Retail.

In addition to insight on how to optimize your supply chain, you will also learn:
• 3 steps to building more resilient operations 
• Best practices to tackle the key issues faced by manufacturers and retail organizations
• How Bizagi's low-code automation platform has helped leading organizations transform their supply chains