Can AI Rescue the Supply Chain from Post-Brexit Process Pain

By James Coombes, CEO and Co-Founder of
James Coombes, CEO and Co-Founder of elaborates on his theory that AI can rescue the supply chain from post-Brexit process pains...

Brexit has been thwarting enterprise operations across the supply chain for five months now. Businesses on both sides of the UK/EU border are still adjusting to the new Brexit arrangements, with further problematic rule changes and restrictions pending in just a few months’ time.

The post-Brexit reality for many organisations is one of increased storage costs, late delivery penalties and, in the case of perishable goods, more wastage. There is also considerable pressure being imposed upon supply chain workers due to the extra requirements for importing and exporting, which is causing long hours, stress and anxiety. One major international supply chains solution company told me of a colossal 500% increase in the volume of work in the UK alone, far greater than the 40% increase among its European counterparts.

To put the issue into context, it is estimated that businesses in the supply chain will need to process an additional 200 million customs declarations each year, compared with roughly 55 million before Brexit. It is plain for all to see that these outdated and cumbersome processes are causing significant disruption to our supply chains. 

As such, the importing and exporting of goods and services is becoming too transactional, with little time for businesses and their suppliers to collaborate and form solid working relationships. Communication is becoming more disjointed. Each organisation is relying on siloed systems, making it almost impossible to share information in real-time. And, with an over-reliance on email to communicate, it’s extremely difficult to track every stage of the supply chain journey.

All of this carries risk and leaves the supply chain open to errors that could cost businesses even more time and money. For example, incorrectly inputting a weight or date can trigger a communication back to the supplier to seek correction, causing a delay to the item being shipped. If one small sub-shipment is wrong, it can hold up an entire shipment at customs. 

It begs the question: can technology help to free the supply chain from this post-Brexit process pain? The answer is a resounding yes. 

Cloud-based collaboration and communication tools are incredibly important in helping to eliminate time-wasting and energy-sapping processes. They can replace email and break down silos, enabling teams to work together closely on projects. We will also see Artificial Intelligence (AI) play a central role over the coming year. AI can handle basic cognitive tasks more quickly than humans, empowering supply chain teams to communicate faster and with better data at their fingertips.

The latest AI technology has the power to automatically analyse incoming documents and email, identify relevant information and instantly assign actions. What’s more, it can automate the entry of data required to fill in customs and freight documents – saving hours of time and stress. And, because modern AI approaches have a feedback loop that learns over time, they are more robust and dynamic than off-the-shelf Optical Character Recognition (OCR)-only approaches.

Essentially, by automating monotonous tasks like ‘answer that email’, ‘key in that data’ and ‘find that piece of information’, employees can reduce the time spent on administrative tasks such as processing documentation for various import and export checks. It means they can focus on building relationships with people in their supply chain network, improving their customer service and freeing up time to focus on business development. Not only will this lead to better and more profitable businesses, but happier team members freed from process pain. And, crucially, it will ensure traceability in an industry that is subject to strict regulatory scrutiny. Businesses will be able to track the origin and journey of their goods throughout the supply chain.

It’s, therefore, no surprise that a new poll shows 75% of freight forwarders think technology could remove some of the burdens on staff responsible for managing the extra processes. Arguably, AI could be the silver bullet the supply chain so desperately needs, helping businesses introduce reliable, more streamlined ways of working. One freight forwarder which used AI for its first transaction, for example, reduced a typically 40 minute-long task down to just four minutes. 

Of course, businesses will still be subject to more processes and complexity across their supply chains in the post-Brexit world. But with the right AI tools, these processes needn’t be slow, error-prone and expensive. By bringing supply chains into the digital age, it is possible to rescue businesses from the extra process pain and focus on improving their import/export profitability.


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