Human, AI Collaboration to Strengthen Supply Chain Resiliency: Report

Eighty-six percent of supply chain managers in the United States who are using AI systems for decision-making felt failed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Secondmind, The Decisions Company, released new research indicating that 86% of U.S. supply chain decision-makers surveyed have been left frustrated by artificial intelligence-powered systems and tools during the COVID-19 crisis. Secondmind commissioned independent global research firm Censuswide to survey over 250 supply chain planners and managers across the US to learn how AI was helping or hindering their decision-making.

The results, released as part of a new global report, show that despite the frustration, belief in AI’s potential is strong - 92% of U.S. respondents agree that AI-powered tools and software will help them make better decisions by 2025 and over half (67%) of those strongly agree that AI will transform supply chains for the better in the next five years.

The barriers to fulfilling AI’s potential

Managers in the United States who were surveyed cited a number of factors hindering the ability of AI systems to deliver value, all of which fell into two categories:

  • Data: a lack of reliable data to feed into AI systems (41%), historic data becoming ‘meaningless’ in times of unprecedented change (17%) and the need to spend significantly more time on manually analyzing and interpreting data (51%) were concerns at a time when accuracy and speed were of the essence.
  • Organizational: over a third of respondents (37%) said their leadership teams lack an understanding of what is currently needed on the ground to make faster, data-driven decisions. Furthermore, rigid processes and internal structures prevented over two in five planners and managers from quickly responding to changing market conditions (43%). 

A longer road to resilience

Supply chain planners and managers in the U.S. who were surveyed believe that a third of their time (on average 3.05 hours daily) is spent on manual tasks that could easily be automated. As frustrations with current AI systems emerged during the pandemic, more than half (51%) said they spent significantly more time manually analyzing and interpreting data to assist strategic and operational decisions.

Decision-makers in the United States who were surveyed state these data pain points are holding them back from working on higher value initiatives that could contribute towards building more resilient supply chains, such as:

  • Proactively preparing scenarios and plans for future ‘black swan’ (unexpected) events (30%)
  • Spending more time on proactive and in-depth planning for major events such as Christmas and Black Friday (38%)
  • Conducting more in-depth analysis, using experience and expertise (57%) 

The power of human & AI collaboration

The majority of surveyed managers in the United States who use AI systems want their domain expertise to factor into decision-making process. Desirable capabilities included: the ability to modify AI-generated forecasts using the decision-maker’s own judgement (54%), AI that can learn from humans when historic data is unreliable (42%) and if AI could show data or contextual information that impacted a forecast (40%).

Of those in the United States who believed AI alone was not enough to inform effective decision-making surveyed, the reasons cited were that human intuition cannot be replicated by a machine (64%), there will always be some events that a machine can't predict (54%) and expertise developed from years on the job is critical in decision-making (45%). 

Vishal Chatrath, CEO and co-founder, Secondmind comments: “COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for businesses operating in global supply chains as they prepare to rapidly accelerate the implementation and deployment of AI in the coming years. For AI to realize its potential, it will be critical for organizations to deploy systems that can cope with sparse or incomplete data environments and promote the effective collaboration between people and AI. Our report shows how much people benefit from AI, but also how much AI needs people. A collaborative approach to decision-making that combines the right skills and capabilities for each task is essential, particularly when systems are disrupted during uncertain times and unpredictable events.”