The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for supply chain executives across industries, due to volatile demand, inventory fluctuations, logistical constraints and shifting supply networks. Early findings from an IBM Institute for Business Value Study show 75% of supply chain leaders agree that the most extreme challenge has been the availability of raw material and components.

As the pandemic revealed, there are vulnerabilities and weaknesses in global supply chains and supply chain planning across virtually every sector and industry. Traditional processes follow linear steps and handoffs between multiple internal functions and external partners, which can limit collaboration and impede timely decisions. Now more than ever, businesses need resilient, agile and intelligent global supply chains.

The first step toward achieving this goal is by enhancing traditional sales and operations planning with continuous collaborative planning. This next-generation approach to supply chain planning uses artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to sense and respond to change, maintain continuity during disruptions, foster constant collaboration between disparate teams and external partners, and shift from demand response to predictive demand creation.

Continuous intelligent planning for retail

Retailers have been hit particularly hard by this disruption, especially those who rely on in-person sales and store traffic. Suddenly, minor inefficiencies in supply chain planning turned into glaring issues and long-term plans for digital transformation needed to happen overnight.

Rethinking traditional supply chain planning with an intelligent approach can help retailers address immediate challenges and emerge stronger from disruption.

  • Reduce lost sales and accurately sense demand. Incorporate new data sources, including external market and weather data, to feed intelligent, self-learning capabilities for supply chain planning.
  • Manage inventory risk and gain real-time inventory visibility. Not only does enhanced visibility help retailers make better decisions about inventory placement, it also reduces risk of inventory obsolescence.
  • Manage business profitability and financial decisions that are not currently aligned with planning and demand forecasts. Integrating demand, supply and financial planning processes to drive more informed financial decisions.

Of course, not all retailers are the same. The needs of a boutique clothing store are very different from those of a grocer, and the appropriate solution—much like their inventory—is not one-size-fits-all. It’s critical to look for a partner who has the tools and experience to deploy and manage AI within enterprise applications and look for opportunities to optimize your supply chain while guiding the implementation process from start to finish.

It’s impossible to predict the future. But with a continuous, intelligent approach to supply chain planning, it is possible to prepare for it—and in the process, become more efficient, profitable and better prepared for future complexities and disruptions.


IBM is helping companies manage supply chain challenges. Talk to an expert to learn more.

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