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Ground level staff most likely to be impacted by AI

More than two-thirds of logistics leaders believe AI will have the greatest impact on ‘shop floor ‘ employees, as opposed to those in managerial or senior leadership positions, according to a poll at SCALA’s 21st annual supply chain debate.

More than 150 senior supply chain and logistics professionals, including industry leaders from Sainsbury’s and Nestle, attended the SCALA-hosted event delivered in association with CILT at the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry on 6 June.

Live polling during the debate saw 84% say that ‘people and enthusiasm’ was the most important factor in the speedy adoption of AI. However, ‘people’ were also cited as the most likely factor when it comes to making large-scale transformation difficult (57%).

A notable portion of organisations (24%) disclosed current utilisation of AI for planning purposes, with 38% indicating non-use of AI-powered tools. However, expert speakers at the event advocated for increased AI implementation, citing its potential to revolutionise supply chain dynamics and spur business growth.

Meinir Childs, director of supply chain at Sainsbury's, underscored AI's capacity to reshape the industry by enhancing customer service, reducing waste, and fostering innovation. Nonetheless, she highlighted the necessity of building trust in AI and advocated for a cultural shift to facilitate colleague upskilling.

Mike Bernon, a visiting fellow from Cranfield University, emphasised the interconnectedness of AI with other technologies, particularly digital twins, envisioning a virtual environment that mirrors the supply chain's intricacies. This, he argued, could bolster environmental sustainability and streamline decision-making processes.

Patrick Pando, vice president of international sales at Aptean, stressed the importance of grassroots engagement in AI projects, particularly among the incoming Gen Z workforce, to ensure their success.

David Walker, logistics transformation project manager at Nestle, delved into AI's potential in enhancing physical logistics through technologies like computer vision, which can expedite problem identification and resolution.

Roy Bridgland, senior industry strategies director at Blue Yonder, elucidated on AI's role in inventory optimisation, facilitating informed decision-making and end-to-end supply chain visibility.

Lesley O'Brien OBE, managing director at Freightlink Europe, scrutinised AI's impact on transport, highlighting its potential to enhance road safety while raising concerns about its implications for workforce skill requirements.

The discourse underscored the complex interplay between AI adoption, workforce dynamics, and operational transformations within the supply chain and logistics industry.

SCALA’s Chris Clowes, who hosted the debate, said: “It was great to see such a fantastic turnout at this year’s event, underlining that AI is a pertinent issue – and significant opportunity - for today’s supply chain and logistics industry.

“We had a series of lively discussions and asked some of the difficult questions. Are we going to have tools ‘forced’ upon us that we don’t want to use? Will AI overcome, or create a skills gap? Are we moving forward at such a pace that we’re not taking the time to ask questions? Are we facing a reduction in the workforce and an increase in leisure time? Will data tax become the norm? While AI can be a sensitive topic, exploring these types of issues now will be critical in supporting our future supply chains and the people who operate them.

“At the end of the debate, we asked the big-ticket question at the heart of it all: 'Where will AI have the greatest impact on the supply chain?'. Over half (55%) of respondents identified large-scale supply chain transformation as the answer. Ultimately, AI’s impact on the supply chain will be huge, but it will be in the gift of individual organisations to sink or swim in the face of the technological evolution.”

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