Applying AI to Supply Chain Management

Applying AI to Supply Chain Management

AI to Supply Chain Management

By Warwick Hopcroft of Seidor Bluekey


Supply Chain Management can best be understood as a network rather than just a linear process. It is the collection of activities related to the design, production, delivery and service of a product. This complex interwoven and inter-related grid of activities forms the perfect ecosystem within which to harness the power of Artificial Intelligence.


AI + Supply Chain – The future is now


AI can be defined as the use of computers to simulate human intelligence, specifically including learning (the acquisition and classification of information, and reasoning) and finding insights into the data. At the core of artificial intelligence, therefore, is the ability to recognise patterns. This is really significant in the case of big data, where the so-called 3Vs (volume, velocity and variety) can be leveraged to find correlations within seemingly diverse data. For example. Transportation planning is a key component within Supply Chain Management. However, historically only very limited access to data to plan routes effectively was available. By contrast, nowadays there are AI enabled systems that use cognitive technology to track and predict supply chain disruptions based on gathering and correlating external data from disparate sources such as social media, news feeds, weather forecasts and historical data.


Online shopping provides another great example of new game-changing technology. Innovation from firm Sentient uses machine learning to deliver purchasing recommendations to e-commerce shoppers based on image recognition. Rather than only using text searches and attributes like colour or brand, the software finds visual correlations with the items that the shopper is currently browsing, through the use of visual pattern matching.  


Its all about interpreting data


The key ingredient that AI brings is its ability to filter through, and interpret, large volumes of Big Data. Without this ability, much of the information now regarded as so valuable would be completely useless.  


To better understand the value and impact of Big Data, let’s consider a project Amazon is currently busy with. The company reportedly already employs 1,000 people in artificial intelligence, mostly working on ‘Echo’, a wireless speaker that listens to you and speaks back. As Kevin O’Marah, the chief content officer at SCM World, explains, “What Amazon is positioning itself to do is far more ambitious and involves what AI experts call ‘contextual awareness’. This means knowing not only the what, but also the when, why, where and how of consumer need. The long game is all about selling us not just what we want, but what we need, and probably before we realise we need it.” Amazon is developing a complete picture of each customer, and the personal data collected will help future AI applications to know the difference between what you want, and what you need.


Just imagine how much data Amazon needs to have collected, rejected, analysed and interpreted, in order to be able to tell us what we need. It really is true that whoever can extract the most value from their data and information are going to be the winners in the long-run. For this reason, powerful databases like SAP HANA coupled with capable data mining and the analytical platform is the only way to establish a business advantage when handling big data.


Are the lights going out?


Up until now, supply chain innovations have focused largely on repetitive, transactional processes both in warehouses and production lines. This is, however, starting to change. We’ve entered an era where it’s no longer just a case of swapping out humans for machines. Robotics process automation (RPA), is an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers. It goes beyond physical systems and provides the glue that when looked at from a supply chain perspective integrates multiple systems dedicated to order-taking and fulfilment. The potential impact of this on work as we know it is almost incomprehensible. Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that businesses could automate up to 45% of current work, saving $2 trillion in annual wages, taking us ever closer to a world with the so-called ‘lights out’ factories and warehouses.


Finding simplicity in complexity


Clearly, the promise that AI holds, and the impact it is likely to have on businesses are both exciting and far-reaching, but it is not just smooth sailing. Moving into an AI led system within a supply chain is complicated and has often borne less than sterling results. Typically, and AI system requires an extensive team of planners for its implementation which is likely to comprise of complex engines running at each step of the process and at each node in the supply network.


At a human level, there are personalities and the resulting conflict between functions and partners which needs to be navigated through and potentially huge opportunities that go unnoticed because they are embedded within the network itself.


But make no mistake, AI will create value in unexpected and unprecedented new ways. The challenge lies in anticipating these changes and then ensuring you are able to capitalise on them, up and down the supply chain.

Successfully manage and grow your small business

SAP Business one offers an affordable way to manage your entire business – from sales and customer relationships to financials and operations. Designed specifically for smaller businesses and sold through the largest and most successful SAP Business One partner in Africa, Bluekey, it helps you streamline processes, act on timely information, and drive profitable growth.


Businesses like yours have big goals. But it’s easy to lose focus when a flood of day-to-day operational details, ad hoc requests for information, and nonstop competitive moves demand your full attention. It’s also easy
to lose the “big picture” when key pieces of information reside in different systems, applications, or physical locations – impeding response times while creating customer dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, disjointed sales, accounting, and operational processes can result in bottlenecks and reduce productivity.


Whether you’re an independent small business or a subsidiary of a larger company, you need a clear view of all aspects of your business 
to stay competitive. You must streamline processes and find better ways to access the information that will result in the best business decisions. SAP Business One can help your organization see clearly, think clearly, and act clearly so that you can close the gap between strategy and execution and become a best-run business.


SAP Business One: A complete and  customizable solution


SAP Business One is a single, integrated solution that provides clear visibility into your entire business and complete control over every aspect of your operations. It captures all critical business information for immediate access and use company-wide. Unlike accounting packages and spreadsheets, it delivers what you need to manage your key business areas, including:

  • Accounting and finance
  • Sales and customer management
  • Purchasing and operations
  • Inventory and distribution
  • Reporting and administration


Because every business is different, SAP Business One is designed with flexibility in mind. Whether it’s deployed in your office or in the cloud, you can access it from the road using our SAP Business One mobile app. And because SAP Business One runs on both the SAP HANA and Microsoft SQL Server platforms, you can choose the one that’s best for your business.


What’s more, your employees can start using it from day one. Then, as your business grows, you can customize and extend SAP Business One to meet your evolving needs.


Make smart decisions faster
with complete information access


SAP Business One enables sound decisions by capturing all critical information across sales, customers, operations, and finance – making it instantly available company-wide. By integrating this data in one system instead of multiple disconnected spreadsheets, it eliminates duplicate data entry, costs, and related errors. Workflow-based alerts trigger automatic responses when important business events occur, allowing you to focus on the most critical events. You have clear visibility into how your business is performing and greater confidence in the information used to make decisions.


Together with the fully integrated SAP Crystal Reports software, SAP Business One delivers dashboards and reports that provide insight into all business areas. Intuitive, interactive drill-down functionality helps you get answers to your most pressing questions. Employees can address customer needs faster, and managers can accurately track revenues, costs, and cash flow to assess performance and take quick corrective action.


For even faster information access, optional analytics powered by SAP HANA are available for SAP Business One. This solution takes real-time reporting and data analysis to the next level, making it easier for users to search SAP Business One for the information they need and create standard or ad hoc reports in real time.


Get started today – then adapt to meet changing needs


You can put SAP Business One to work immediately using the parts of the application you need today. And as your business grows, you can adapt the application to meet your changing needs – and integrate it with other systems using intuitive technologies. You can also customize and extend SAP Business One to meet your specific business and industry challenges using the SAP Business One studio, software development kit, or any of over
500 add-on solutions built by our partners.


SAP offers a remote support platform for SAP Business One to help you maintain it more easily and prevent potential issues from impacting your business activities. This support platform helps identify system bot – tlenecks by enabling SAP support services to collect information on your software status and check against known support issues. By sending regular status e-mails and automatic fixes, it allows you to avoid issues from happening and decrease the time spent on IT support. The remote support platform also provides automated database backups, upgrade evaluations, inventory valuation checkups, system installation health checks, and other services.


Realise the bottom-line benefits of SAP Business One


SAP Business One provides a single solution for managing your entire business. It automates your critical business processes to improve operational efficiency – and integrates all business information to drive sound decisions. With clear visibility company-wide, you can gain greater control over all business areas, see who your best customers are, and serve them better.


Designed for small businesses and subsidiaries of large enterprises, SAP Business One enables you to:

  • Proactively grow your business by streamlining operations instead of reacting to the details of day-to-day tasks
  • Respond quickly to customer needs by instantly accessing the information needed Quick Facts
  • Eliminate redundant data entry and errors with a single, integrated solution costs and delays, and strengthens your bottom line
  • Form closer customer relationships by gaining access to centralized information that makes it easier to manage customer communication
  • Choose the deployment option (in-house or cloud) and platform (SAP HANA or Microsoft SQL Server) that best meets your needs
  • Lower technology costs and speed time to value with a solution that can be implemented more quickly, maintained more easily, and learned with minimal training


Implementing efficient business solutions

Implementing efficient business solutions

Nearly every small business grapples with the challenge of achieving profitability.

It is not just a matter of increasing sales. In order to improve bottom-line results, companies must also find ways to improve productivity, boost efficiency, and keep costs in check – all achievable with efficient business solutions.

At the same time they are working to boost profitability, companies must establish the kind of internal controls that ensure accountability and help them complying with a growing number of government rules, vendor mandates, and industry standards and best practices. Accountability is an increasingly important component of overall business management.

Fortunately, the profitability outlook is not completely clouded by competition, cost and compliance issues. Today, even small companies can take advantage of integrated and efficient business solutions that simultaneously boost profitability and improve internal accountability.


Profitability – Assessing the obstacles

Every business, regardless of size, is concerned with a wide range of issues that can impact its bottom-line profitability. The first and most essential step toward profitability is to get a clear picture of your company’s performance. This picture extends beyond finances to include all aspects of your business. Having an integrated view of your company enables you to make smarter decisions – the kind of decisions that ensure profitable performance. The accuracy of your decisions depend on the quality of data you have available. By operating more efficiently and having the information you need to make smart decisions, you position yourself to grow sales and maximize profit.


Cost Control – Achieving efficient operations

A key component of profit, of course, is your ability to keep costs in check. To be profitable in today’s global business climate may require you to change your operations radically for greater efficiency – for example, by going off-shore to lower your manufacturing costs. Constant competitive pressures and increasing customer demands are forcing you to hammer away at waste and control costs. This is the only way you can give customers what they want at the price they demand while maintaining the quality they expect.

Small businesses like yours face a bewildering variety of costs, including:

  • Purchasing – are you getting the best prices from your suppliers by giving them the most effective specifications, order quantities, and delivery schedules?
  • Labor – is your team operating as productively as possible? Do your employees have access to all the information they need to do their jobs right the first time?
  • Inventory – are you optimizing inventory in a way that maximizes carrying costs and out-of-stock situations simultaneously?
  • Customer Service – do you know the costs of the services you provide to each customer? Are all of your customers profitable, even after the sale has been made?

Efficient operations help you better control costs and enable you to offer more competitive pricing and terms to your customers.

SAP Business One, a single, affordable solution designed for small businesses, lets you streamline operations, access accurate information quickly, and get a 360-degree view of key business areas. These advantages help you improve performance, increase profitability, and accelerate growth.


Accountability – Ensuring quality and compliance

In addition to cost and efficiency pressures, businesses face increasingly burdensome regulations concerning quality, service, safety, and financial reporting. Regardless of your industry, you are pressured to comply with practices, rules, and standards from a variety of sources.

As your business grows, you may begin to work with new suppliers or customers with different sets of competing standards. Or you may find yourself competing in a new marketplace with different regulatory requirements. Such changes can put additional pressure on your ability to generate acceptable profits.

A technology solution that provides a clear, integrated view of your business data is essential to attaining consistent quality standards. It results in multiple benefits including lower costs in areas such as returns or rework and increased customer satisfaction, which leads to increased sales, a better competitive position, and a stronger bottom line.


SAP Business One – Improving profitability and accountability

One software offering that meets these requirements for integrated business management is SAP Business One and the SAP Business One Starter Package. Designed specifically for small businesses, it enables you to manage customer-related business processes efficiently. With this single, affordable application you can streamline operations, quickly obtain accurate information on business processes, and accelerate profitable growth. SAP Business One delivers a 360-degree view of sales, finance, purchasing, warehouse management, manufacturing, and other key areas to help you improve performance and increase profitability.

The SAP Business One reporting function lets you analyse opportunities by lead source, territory, industry, customer, and item. The reports allow users to view the distribution of leads by source over time to identify the most profitable lead-generation activities.

SAP Business One provides business document development and tracking, including quotes. You can use this functionality to calculate gross profit for each quote and easily review sales price history. And the application’s customer relationship management functionality gives you complete information on customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.

The integrated solution also helps businesses achieve greater internal control and accountability. By tying together different business functions and processes, SAP Business One helps you comply with regulatory, financial and other requirements, using reporting functions to reduce the risk on noncompliance. And it gives your managers a clearer view of processes in finance, manufacturing, and customer service to ensure accountability standards are being met throughout the organisation.

Your profitability depends, to a large extent, on your ability to keep costs in check. To be profitable in today’s global climate, you may need to change your operations radically for greater efficiency.


About Bluekey

Bluekey specialises in making SME’s best-run businesses through the sales, implementation, and support of SAP Business One throughout Africa. Bluekey is headquartered in Johannesburg and has branches in Cape Town, Durban, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Bluekey is Africa’s largest and most awarded SAP Business One partner, a SAP-certified Gold Partner and SAP Business One partner of the year 7 years in a row (2005-2011), and SAP EMEA Pinnacle Award winner.

For more information about Bluekey Software Solutions contact:

Craig Johnston | 021 685 7000 |


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How SMEs can meet their need for speed with SAP Business One

How SMEs can meet their need for speed with SAP Business One

Sap Business One - need for speedA bigger business is a better business. It is a common assumption, but it is not strictly true. Small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) have a number of advantages over their larger counterparts. Their size is often their strength – it makes them agile, flexible and adaptable. In fact, most SMEs we speak to pride themselves on this fact.  They can respond faster to changes in the market and take advantage of new insight and opportunities faster than larger organisations.

To capitalise on their agility, flexibility and adaptability SMEs need systems that play to this strength. Unfortunately, some SMEs get bogged down by manual processes. They reply on off-the-shelf accounting-only software that doesn’t provide them with the business intelligence and insight they need to make informed business decisions. “We wanted a software solution that would integrate our data and processes and enable us to react fast to events both inside the company and throughout our business ecosystem,” says Temesi Munyendo, head of information technology at Crown Berger.

All these things slow business down, resulting in missing out on opportunities. In the SME environment, executives often resort to making important decisions on a gut feeling rather than up to date information provided from an integrated and comprehensive business management solution. “Of the various solutions we evaluated, SAP Business One was best suited to deliver the functionality we required to support our business and its on-going growth,” says Ian Smit, Financial Director, CJP Chemicals.

SAP Business One is an integrated, affordable, easy-to-use business management software solution that offers more than just accounting and is designed specifically for small and midsize businesses (SME’s). It enables you to manage by exception and focus on growing your business with up to date business insights and intelligence so you can better service your customers and be a more profitable business.

“SAP Business One is far more cost effective than we were led to believe. It has surprisingly low on-going costs. It was cheaper than the competitors and far easier to implement.” Thomas Sage, Financial Director, Interlogix.

Bluekey provides SAP Business One ERP to Westpack

Bluekey provides SAP Business One ERP to Westpack

Westpack’s decision to implement the small to midsize enterprise (SME) enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution from SAP, SAP Business One, is expected to drastically increase the company’s business integration, stock and production control.

With more than 200 successful SAP Business One implementations, and a presence across southern and East Africa, Bluekey Software Solutions is the largest and most awarded SAP Business One partner, a factor that contributed to Westpack’s comfort in entrusting Bluekey to achieve the business goals of the new ERP system.

Westpack is a leading South African packaging company with core competencies in the blending and packing of products fit for human consumption. While its primary focus is on the packaging of powders and granules, it has expanded its portfolio to include pastas, grains, spices, desserts, cereals and coatings.

“We are proud of our association with leading multinational blue-chip companies and local brand leaders, and with SAP Business One, we are able to offer speedy and proficient services to our clients,” says Neil Walker, Supply Chain Director, Westpack.

Previously, it was not possible to access up-to-the-minute information needed to make critical business decisions, nor to provide the level of service that Westpack wanted to. “Our previous system was quite outdated. There were very poor stock control processes, and the integration to financials was terrible. The legacy system could just not cater for our future growth and lacked the traceability that we required,” says Walker.

SAP is already the solution of choice among many of their corporate suppliers. Part of their strategy for the coming years is to align themselves more closely with these companies. “With the newer versions of SAP Business One, integration has never been easier. Preconfigured workflows of many business processes are provided to our clients at no additional cost,” says Lyall O’Carroll of Bluekey Software Solutions. The SAP Business One solution implemented by Bluekey provides Westpack with the alignment opportunities it seeks to automate and integrate its procurement, stock and business processes to meet industry standards, and ensure it is providing the level of service clients and suppliers expect.

“We look forward to using SAP Business One, and our partnership with Bluekey, to achieve our long-term vision and grow our business the way we want to,” concludes Walker.

ERP must be right-sized to fly in Africa

ERP must be right-sized to fly in Africa

While companies in Africa have historically been slower off the mark in using ERP to automate business functions, they are fast catching up and those still relying on manual systems are no longer commonplace.

This is according to Paul Marketos, Managing Director at Bluekey Software Solutions, who says that just seven years ago it was not uncommon to find large companies in countries such as Kenya with turnovers in excess of R60-million still using manual ledgers. Now, having automated their accounting processes, many are looking at fully-integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to improve efficiencies and profits.

Marketos attributes this to a greater availability of solutions, such as SAP Business One, which are better-geared for mid-tier enterprises.

“The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) requirements of companies in Africa are largely consistent with those of businesses in South Africa or elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, they aren’t easily addressed by larger ERP solutions. This is due to their size, the skills level of users and the lack of locally-relevant support.

“For an ERP solution to fly in an African business, the software has got to be intuitive and usable. It also has to be uncomplicated to implement and maintain. In a nutshell, it’s got to be right-sized for Africa,” says Marketos.

Marketos says that there are numerous ERP vendors operating into Africa, with no dominant player. This means that companies often grapple to find ‘on-the-ground’ support for systems, which has also put a dampener on ERP for some Africa-based companies.

“For years, many ERP vendors have serviced their customers in Africa from a distance and as a result, companies sometimes battle to find the necessary technical support for implementations, maintenance and customisations. However, this is changing as ERP becomes more widely-adopted by African businesses because vendors and consultants can justify having a presence in the region,” says Marketos, adding that Bluekey’s own success in the African region, more specifically in Kenya where it has an office, is due to its approach to up-skill and allow locally-based staff to provide high-quality support services rather than try to service customers from South Africa.

He believes that SAP Business One will become the preferred ERP solution for companies in Africa because it provides such a good fit and requires almost no maintenance.

“SAP Business One provides an excellent fit for the typical Africa-based business because it is specifically designed for small and medium sized enterprises (SME), and because it is easily configured for varying business needs, without having to do bespoke development as is often the case with other less products. Because it can be implemented ‘vanilla’ without customisations or third party applications, the complexity of the implementation is dramatically reduced and support is simplified.

“SAP Business One is extremely diverse.  We have customers with one user, and a customer with 165 users.  There is also integration with bigger SAP solutions such as SAP Business Suite – for African subsidiaries of multinationals running larger systems. The determining factor as to whether a company should consider one of the larger ERP solutions is the degree of business complexity required.  Large transaction volumes and user numbers can be easily accommodated by SAP Business One,” says Marketos.

A product of the world’s foremost international ERP vendor, SAP Business One has been localised so that it conforms to the legislative requirements of each country in which it is sold. It also offers multi-language support.

Marketos concludes: “With SAP Business One, companies in Africa have a ‘suit that is cut to fit the cloth’. At the same time, they get an ERP solution from a reputable, credible vendor. This means they can reap the full benefits of ERP without compromise. Solutions like SAP Business One will help drive ERP adoption in Africa and ensure that it continues to fly.”