As we’ve discussed before, there is still a human element required for many technologically advanced supply chain operations, including automation and blockchain. That said, a future in which smart machines can make decisions on their own (with a touch of human guidance, of course) could be closer than we think.

Enter cognitive automation. 

First and foremost, cognitive automation and robotic process automation (RPA) are not the same, even though they are often confused for one another. Yes, both can decrease human error, streamline operations, and lead to smarter and more efficient supply chains. That said, RPA refers specifically to software that is programmed to perform basic tasks, thereby eliminating many of the mundane and repetitive jobs currently being performed by humans. RPA allows human workers to have significantly more time to focus on bigger picture items like strategy. 

On the other hand, cognitive automation is a form of RPA with added capabilities to mimic human thought and action through different technological algorithms. Cognitive automation can manage and analyze large volumes of data and operations much more quickly and accurately than humans, meaning that in some ways, it can be a better choice than having human managers. With cognitive automation, machines can sense in a very human way, using cognitive technologies like “natural language processing, image processing, pattern recognition, and — most importantly — contextual analyses to make more intuitive leaps, perceptions, and judgments” as per Manish Rai at Automation Anywhere. In other words, cognitive automation analyzes aggregate data to identify patterns and trends. 

It all sounds too good to be true, right? 

A faster, more efficient, and less error-prone approach is something that all supply chain managers strive for, but it should be noted that some human intervention will always be required. 

Even though self-driving supply chains could be around sooner than we think, there is no way to entirely erase the human element. Sales & management will always be needed, as the world we live in is unpredictable, and machines will only be able to sense so much. For example, machines would have no way of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the corresponding decline in sales for most businesses. Understanding the “why” in this situation is extremely important, and it is something that you would not be able to understand looking at data and numbers alone.

And while self-driving supply chains may be around soon, it will take a lot of trial and error before it is commonplace in shipping and logistics. In order to make sure your supply chain is prepared, be sure to invest in new technologies, provide proper training to your employees, and partner with an expert in the field. Handing over the reins to your supply chain can be scary, but by working with a reputable company with a proven track record, you are helping set yourself up for success.

And ultimately, as per Marcel te Lindert at Supply Chain Movement, the entirety of the self-driving supply chain movement will require a great deal of trust. The industry has been historically slow to accept change. That said, in a world increasingly driven by technological advancements, and an age dominated by social distancing and removing the human element as much as possible, it is time that the industry “let go of the wheel,” so to speak, and embrace the technological revolution.

If you’re interested in new and emerging technologies, and what to know how blockchain can complement RPA and cognitive automation, get in touch with us.