Conversational AI & Chatbots in Supply Chains, How did we get here?

Time and again the adaptability of supply chains to latest technologies has been questioned. Subsequently the question of why has been replaced by how, regarding the implementation of the same. With the evolution of data heavy technologies, larger companies are committing to developing supply chain specific applications which has prompted sceptics to embrace technology. Visibility and responsiveness have been one of the oldest problems recurring in supply chains across the world.

As the e-commerce market continues to grow through disruptions, volumes of products being picked, dispatched and shipped are through the roof. Warehouse personnel could benefit using voice activated personal assistants that are conversational and can provide human like assistance. Voice activated shopping and office assistants are shaving off valuable minutes across the value chain. Instant notifications regarding product dispatch and delivery are transforming customer’s shopping experience. IoT and machine learning models will offer a lending hand in integrating conversational AI into supply chains.

Source: Medium

Oh nice, but what are Chatbots and Conversational AI really?

Chatbots are not something new, in fact they have been around for decades now. ELIZA, one of the first chatbots ever built, attempted to psychoanalyze people in the 1960’s(Source: NBC News). Chatbots have evolved from premade coding-based responses to utilizing the potential of big data and predictive analytics to personalize conversations and responses to its users. Basically, they are digital butlers who aid in different aspects of business and daily routine.

Um…, how are we going to use it to improve Supply Chains?

      Conversational Chatbots are one of the most popular applications of Conversational AI in supply chains. Companies are applying Natural Language Processing (NLP) to engage customers by providing advanced dialogues, personal preferences and contextual understanding to deliver engaging conversations. Customers are prompted with suggestions for product purchases, that are based on data heavy machine learning models.

    Repetitive Tasks could be automated by applying predictive analytics to provide responses tailor made to an individual. The ability to unearth valuable insights within seconds combined with streamlined interaction make them useful in agile supply chains. Automated reports and checklists take the laborious steps of research and preparation out of the equation, to make these systems a must have feature.  

  Improved Quality and Customer Satisfaction could be achieved with the use of conversational AI. Voice activated chatbots are already in use as we speak in certain warehouses in the US. These chatbots which are in practice being used as assistants, provide real time information about the day’s activities and KPIs. As a result, visibility issues are resolved, and they prevent small errors from turning into large problems. Companies can manage sales order from start to finish while seeing accurate and correct quantities to achieve quality targets. The popular use of chatbots to facilitate customer assistance and queries needs no introduction and today companies are looking to harness the potential of collecting data from customers’ queries and understanding their behaviour to provide personalized recommendations.

“Sales through voice-enabled digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are projected to skyrocket from $2 billion in 2017 to $40 billion in 2022. One study shows that fully 30% of owners have used their devices to make purchases. This type of commerce has the potential to transform the consumer supply chain.” MIT Sloan Management Review

          Integrating Supply Chain Solutions with Conversational AI has been a game changer with respect to this technology. In 2018, Shipping Easy teamed up with Amazon’s Alexa to release a conversational shipping solution that uses artificial intelligence to assist in warehouse operations (Source: Digital Commerce). Alexa provides inventory levels, placing shipping orders, tracking order history, and providing order number updates that require immediate attention. The key to achieving maximum productivity using such AI enabled platforms really lies with asking the right questions.

So, what do you want to conclude?

While conversational AI platforms seem catchy to the eye, they certainly do not come without pitfalls. Besides addressing the need for such conversational technologies in your warehouse, the biggest risks associated with their application certainly is data security and the fear of AIs.

Data breaches are becoming more common in the novel data heavy world. This may be redundant, yet it can’t be stressed enough that the data collected from your supply chain must be encrypted periodically to maximize resilience against breaching attempts.

Fear of AI isn’t something new.  Robots enabled with artificial intelligence thinking beyond human control seem to scare the society. This is only fair since when computers fail, they do so magnificently. For example, in March 2016 Microsoft’s artificial intelligence program Tay, started writing racist and sexual language on Twitter. It was created as a chatbot meant to entertain 18-24-year olds and learn from human conversations. But the program went south, due to its source code failure and people exploiting its vulnerability online. Tech giants like Microsoft aren’t alone in these incidents.

Facebook encountered a similar unexplainable problem in 2017 when two of their robots were shut down abruptly after they seemed to have started making up their own language. The robots were primarily designed to run an unsupervised negotiation exercise that turned into an incomprehensible problem.

Blame it on undefined parameters or the inability of the technology to not assimilate ‘human’ aspects of supply chain activities, the technology isn’t complete. Albeit, it would be premature to conclude that it isn’t ready to use. Precautions and patience with technology such as conversational AI, can go a long way in maximizing the returns from recent advancements.

Written by:

Gokul Pankaj

Web Content Manager at SupplyTech Insights

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