Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic right now, and everyone has an opinion. There are two main schools of thought regarding the use of AI in supply chain management; it’s either an excellent tool for increasing efficiency, or it’s an interloper robbing human employees of their jobs. Both perspectives are flawed. AI has its pros and cons, but what are its actual effects on supply chain management?
For workers, AI may be viewed as a dangerous competitor. While initially expensive, technology doesn’t need to be paid for its time. It doesn’t require overtime pay, sick days, or paid vacation, and it performs its assigned tasks too quickly for human employees to compete. In fields where AI technology excels, job opportunities are drying up. But AI is limited where humans continue to excel — complex pattern recognition and meaningful customer interaction — but this is cold comfort to workers who view its implementation as the beginning of the end for their employment prospects.
AI is digital technology. It poses a potential security risk if implemented incorrectly. To maximize efficiency, AI needs a presence within all the systems it manages. A network of technology, machines, and software operating on an interconnected system is known as an Internet of Things (IoT). While undeniably efficient, an AI-managed IoT exposes all its systems to cybersecurity breach. A single unsecured component is a potential gateway to the whole IoT. Put simply, if even one part of the system is lax in security, the entire system is vulnerable to compromise — not a pleasant prospect in the commercial credit industry.
From a business perspective, AI is nothing short of exceptional. It expands the limited functionality of computers. Computers are useful for math, data collection and storage, and other number and memory-based tasks, but they are historically useless for any task requiring pattern recognition. With AI — specifically machine learning — it is possible to train a program to recognize simple patterns. AI technology can automate data application tasks — work which was previously only possible with human intervention. And it works at speeds beyond human capability. AI makes business activity, such as predicting trends, invoicing, and the evaluation of creditworthiness easier, more efficient, and significantly less expensive than employing a human logistics specialist.
Human intervention is still necessary, and when AI handles menial tasks, human employees are available for meaningful work. AI can augment human interaction, but building relationships with clients and complex creative problem-solving remain human activities. The recent rise of AI-enabled automation does not spell the end for human workers but rather a shift in the nature of work itself.
We may never reach a consensus on the use of AI. With its ability to predict and act on business trends, AI provides significant logistical advantages for supply chain management, but it also carries significant risk. Proper implementation and cybersecurity measures are vital. And AI’s potential for widespread economic impact will continue to raise concerns about future employment prospects among human workers. The successful use of AI in supply chain management activity starts with awareness and careful planning.
AI is now a fact of life. It is crucial for financial professionals to understand its capabilities and how it affects every aspect of supply chain management.