There is much concern in many quarters about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on jobs, as smarter and smarter software robots can do jobs better than humans, seemingly across almost every category.

In recent months, for example, there was news that software robots could replace as many as 10,000 human jobs at the American banking giant Citi within five years, according to one of the bank's most senior executives. Citi's president, Jamie Forese, described roles in operations and technology as the "most fertile for machine processing."

There was also recent news that Amazon is finding that it can replace thousands of buyers and merchandisers with software instead.

"Amazon realized a lot of expensive employees were spending a lot of time working on things that should really be automated," Elaine Kwon, who worked as a vendor manager at Amazon from 2014 to 2016, told Bloomberg earlier this year.

It also appears software robots are a lot better than doctors at diagnosing a patient's symptoms.

In the supply chain at least, broad use of AI "does not mean human workers will become obsolete."

So say Gary Hanifan and Kris Timmermans of consulting firm Accenture in a recent column on the web site of the Harvard Business Review.

In support of that position, the authors cite a new book by Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson they says debunks the widespread misconception that AI systems will replace humans in one industry after another.

"While AI will be deployed to manage certain tasks, including higher-level decision making, the technology's true power is in augmenting human capabilities - and that holds true in the supply chain," Hanifan and Timmermans say.

They further argue that the combined power of humans and machines will create new sources of value for businesses – and keep lots of humans employed.


Hanifan and Timmermans identify three new categories of AI-driven jobs:

Trainers who help AI systems learn how to perform, which includes everything from helping natural language processors and language translators make fewer errors, to teaching AI algorithms how to mimic human behaviours.

Explainers who interpret the results of algorithms to improve transparency and accountability for AI decision making and processes.

Sustainers who ensure intelligent systems stay true to their original goals without crossing ethical lines or reinforcing bias.

They further argue that AI, combined with advanced analytics, will enable supply chain planners to make more forward-looking, strategic decisions and spend less time on reactive problem solving – a concept that has been around for quite awhile in the notion of using software to manage by exception in a variety of planning roles, especially demand planning.

These new-age planners, in fact, will lead the charge in "moving away from a traditional supply chain operating model, which is inflexible and slow, to a new dynamic model with true end-to-end segmentation. That means planning multiple supply chains that meet the needs of specific customer micro-segments as well as managing business relationships and exceptions," Hanifan and Timmermans write.

They say there will also be a new role of "digital engineer" that will emerge, which will involve highly analytical, digitally savvy data scientists who manage, models, and tweaks the algorithms, alert protocols, and parameters guiding the automated decision-making planning systems.

SCDigest would note there will be a limited number of people who will possess such skills.

Still, the software will get smarter, and supply chain executives need to ready their people for this inevitable shift that is already under way, Hanifan and Timmermans say. That includes making the commitment to reskill and move people to other areas of the business where they can add more value.

"The supply chain is and always has been a people business," Hanifan and Timmermans conclude. "We're moving toward a world where humans and machines are collaborating, not just coexisting. The result will be an efficient, sustainable supply chain that delivers better business outcomes."

SCDigest will agree on the "better business outcomes" part. Will creation of new roles really make up for the potentially millions of jobs replaced by software robots in the supply chain? We wish we could be optimistic. The reality is many if not most business will take the cost savings from eliminating the need for some workers rather than moving them to some new area – but we'll get Daugherty and Wilson's book Human + Machine and summarize their analysis soon.

Sourced from Supply Chain Digest