The last ten years have seen phenomenal growth in tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which are being used successfully in a range of applications in the supply chain, including demand forecasting, risk, inventory and quality management, and transport and distribution optimisation, says SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management).

Recognising that AI is advancing at an unprecedented rate and has enormous potential to further enhance supply chain management, SAPICS has lined up compelling presentations focused on this technology at its annual conference in Cape Town. This event, which is now in its 46th year, takes place from 9 to 12 June 2024. It will see hundreds of attendees from around the world gather to network, learn and share knowledge through panel discussions, presentations, workshops and case studies presented by local and international experts and industry leaders.

Blending economics, AI and behavioural science

Economist and data scientist Neil Rankin, who holds a Doctorate degree from Oxford University, is one of the thought leaders on the SAPICS Conference programme this year. The co-founder of Predictive Insights, Rankin blends economics, AI (machine learning) and behavioural science to create forecasts and develop scenarios that are used to drive more accurate and improved planning, supply chain processes, staffing and stock levels, and better target activities like promotions. He believes that supply chain professionals can learn from the South African Reserve Bank. “AI like machine learning models and econometric approaches that are used by organisations like the Reserve Bank to predict inflation can be used to improve forecast accuracy and the resulting supply-chain decisions that forecasts drive,” Rankin says. SAPICS Conference attendees can expect to gain an understanding of cutting edge approaches to demand forecasting using AI, causal machine learning and economic data to improve forecasting and optimise supply planning.

AI promises magical innovations but quality data is key

Based in Boston, USA, Amritha Arun Babu Mysore is a seasoned tech leader who spearheads product innovation in startups and enterprises, including Amazon. She will also share her insights at the 2024 SAPICS Conference. Mysore echoes Rankin’s passion for the potential of AI in supply chains but cautions that quality data is key to its success. “Artificial intelligence promises magical innovations, but the real wizardry happens behind the scenes, fuelled by data,” she stresses. In her SAPICS session, she will explore the critical role of AI and machine learning product managers in harnessing data to drive meaningful progress. “We will bust misconceptions about AI systems running on autopilot, highlighting product manager oversight in mitigating risks and translating algorithm performance into business impact. Attendees will gain technical and interpersonal best practices to collect, preprocess and leverage data while ensuring ethical AI principles. They can expect to gain an elevated, demystified perspective of AI and machine learning product management centred on using data to solve real-world needs.”

Smart cities and supply chain

In a smart city, will our houses know more about us than we do ourselves? This is a question that will be explored by SAPICS Conference presenter Yaseen Ahmid, a business analyst who is passionate about smart cities, circular economies and continuous improvement. Expanding on the topic of his session, Ahmid says: “Viewing the city as a living organism requires us to come to terms with the possible changes in our culture as we rely more extensively on the increasingly advancing infrastructure that makes cities function effectively. What defines a smart city, and how does technology shape the future landscape for supply chain? In this session, we will examine the transformative impact of smart city technologies on supply chain dynamics. Addressing the integration of advanced digital infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT), and data analytics within urban environments, the presentation delves into how these innovations enhance supply chain efficiency, resilience and sustainability. By examining the symbiotic relationship between smart cities and supply chains, attendees will learn about the opportunities and challenges presented by this intersection and gain valuable insights to navigate the evolving landscape of urban logistics and interconnected systems.”

This year’s SAPICS Conference will be held in association with the Southern African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF).

Yaseen Ahmid
Economist and data scientist Neil Rankin