Remember what the ‘A’ stands for
New technologies can enhance human decision-making in supply chain firms, but technological control mechanisms and computing power have their limits. The human factor still reigns supreme.
A recent editorial by Harbert’s LaDonna Thornton discussed the growing need for technology, but also the absolute necessity of human decision-makers in the workplace. Thornton, assistant professor in supply chain management, co-authored “How to deal with the Human Factor in Supply Chain Management” in International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management.
“Supply chains are very complex,” Thornton said. “All of these complexities to service the customers are becoming taxing on people within the supply chain. We need to start thinking about how employees are affected by this and what type of employees we need. And in light of COVID-19, how do we keep employees safe while meeting customer needs? Are there opportunities to augment what we do with technology?
“Technology isn’t the perfect solution, either. It’s time to take a step back and re-examine how complex we’ve made things and really start to evaluate where we can take the human factor and the new technological advances, put them together, and get the best of both worlds out of that.”
Technology has already replaced the human factor in many service-oriented areas, particularly phone calls or computer chats with supposed company agents. Instead, they are often bots programmed to answer questions such as “When will my delivery arrive?” or “Can I cancel my order?”
“Artificial Intelligence is going to answer as many questions as it can based on the data it has,” Thornton said. “But I still think that there is a large segment of the population that doesn’t want to deal with that. They don’t want to talk to a bot. They want a person.”
Thornton, a behavioral researcher in supply chain management, noted that for all the data analysis information technology and artificial intelligence can provide, it’s just that … artificial. It can’t feel. It doesn’t have compassion.
“Sometimes technology can give you the answers cold and fast,” she added. “But I’m looking at the people within that supply chain and how to better serve them. How does this play into consumer welfare? How do we meet the safety concerns of customers in this new delivery environment created by COVID-19?
“Look at delivery complaints. Talking to a human, you can make a connection and talk through it.There is a strength and a comfort forsome customers in having a human decision-maker there.”
Thornton’s editorial concluded that human decision-makers bring individual competencies that are ethically oriented to supply chain management decision processes. These competencies, paired with the decision guidance about complex problems provided by artificial intelligence, can create a formidable supply chain manager.