Troy Prothero, Senior Vice President Product Management, Supply Chain Solutions at Symphony RetailAI chats about the impact of AI and ML in supply chain management and demand forecasting:
Welcome to this SalesTechStar chat Troy, tell us about yourself and your role at Symphony RetailAI…
I’m the SVP of Product Management, Supply Chain Solutions, where I oversee product development and digital transformation that brings powerful, value-creating supply chain solutions and utilizes data to establish a collaborative program within a retailers’ business and across their CPG partners.
I’ve been involved in grocery retail throughout most of my life, having started in the industry as a produce clerk way back when. For the last 13 years I’ve been focused on supply chain from both the retailer and solutions provider side, which has provided me a deep understanding of grocery’s unique supply chain needs.
How have you been seeing supply chain trends evolve as the global market picks up pace after long shutdowns over the recent years?
Even in 2022, new threats and economic factors – as well as changing customer behavior – has led to unpredictability in the supply chain. The pandemic era has seen rapid changes in consumer preferences, and that along with chaos in the retail supply chain has demonstrated that traditional sales-based demand forecasting is not enough when it comes to meeting shopper expectations while achieving financial plan and category strategies.
A recent Symphony RetailAI-commissioned survey, “Role of AI/ML in Supply Chain and Demand Forecasting,” found that many retailers are not well-prepared to deal with this level of continual change and disruption. It found that 87% of retail executives think their company’s supply chain performance either lags the competition (22%) or is only on par (65%).
In what ways are you seeing technologies like AI/ML transform supply chain and demand forecasting today?
The key to managing and mitigating massive disruptions in the supply chain – both during and after their occurrence – is full inventory visibility, along with the ability to game out various scenarios leveraging sophisticated data science. Retailers and CPGs can tap data from both internal and external sources, including supplier, warehouse, store and customer. AI and ML give unprecedented insight and greatly improved forecasts about what would happen given various assumptions, which is incredibly valuable when the past is no precedent for an unpredictable future
AI-driven models for demand forecasting factor in future data including calendar events and promotional plans. This results in timely, actionable projections that enable retailers to more effectively meet shopper demand. In addition, having access to accurate inventory availability across the supply chain allows retailers to respond quickly when changes arise unexpectedly.
For retailers at the point of transitioning to these platforms, what best practices would you share?
For a fully supported, AI-powered supply chain, having comprehensive, accurate data is essential. It’s key to understanding shopper behaviors and market trends as well as driving successful collaboration with suppliers and CPGs. What’s more, the rapid growth of online grocery has added to the complexity of data management but in turn gives rich, real-time insights into shopper preferences and changing demand signals.
In the end, full supply chain visibility can only be attained once silos are eliminated. A single hiccup in the supply chain can cause a ripple effect, and retailers must be able to anticipate, understand and mitigate these dynamics with science-based forecasting and replenishment capabilities. It’s critical to have inventory and demand signal visibility with real-time updates, along with the agility to respond to and bounce back from challenges.
A few thoughts on the future of retail and retail tech?
Supply chain chaos is not going away anytime soon – the war in Ukraine, continuing chaos from the pandemic and reverberations from trade wars and sanctions have revealed serious weaknesses in the “just-in-time” supply chain approach that’s dominated the landscape for the last couple of decades. And of course, inflation is now rearing its unwelcome head. The impact on consumer spending will be significant, so we need to pay close attention and prepare accordingly, utilizing state-of-the-art capabilities to help offset the unpredictability.
Some last thoughts, takeaways, before we wrap up!
Having perfect supply chain planning and forecasting is a seductive vision, but I’m not sure any of us realistically think we’re going to achieve that goal. That said, can we make significant, even dramatic, improvements by leveraging these new types of technologies? Yes. And it can have a meaningful impact on overall supply chain performance and efficiency costs. At the end of the day, that translates into improved shopper satisfaction and increased profitability – which is the north star of every supply chain executive.
Symphony RetailAI is a leading provider of end-to-end, integrated AI-powered Merchandising, Marketing and Supply Chain Solutions for retailers and CPG manufacturers worldwide. Harnessing the power of AI, its solutions enhance agility, performance, and revenue growth across the retail value chain from source to consumer. Trusted by hundreds of the world’s leading retailers and manufacturers, Symphony RetailAI serves more than 1,200 organizations worldwide, including 15 of the top 25 global grocery retailers, 25 of the top 25 global CPG manufacturers, thousands of retail brands, and hundreds of national and regional chains, all through the Microsoft Azure Cloud.
Troy Prothero is the Senior Vice President Product Management, Supply Chain Solutions at Symphony RetailAI
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