Put people first for AI success, technology expert advises
Johan Steyn at the 2022 SAPICS Conference

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic and big buzzword in business today.

Infoholic Research predicts that AI in the logistics and supply chain markets will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 42.9% until 2023.

According to author, AI and automation expert Johan Steyn, everyone wants AI but there are pitfalls to avoid. In his compelling keynote presentation at the 2022 SAPICS Conference, Steyn explored how intelligent technology will impact supply chains. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), smart sensors providing real-time insights, autonomous decision making and predictive analytics will play an increasingly important role in the profession.

He cautioned the 600 supply chain professionals who met in Cape Town for the event to start any automation journey with a clear understanding of business objectives and customer needs.

Steyn said that he has spoken to executives who wanted AI but could not explain their most basic business processes. “Consultants will never tell you this, but use the technology that you have,” he advised SAPICS attendees. “Start with what you have got and how you can use it. Don’t listen to consultants that want to buy shiny stuff. You may not need it,” he asserted, and added that it is critical to partner with the right vendors in a win-win relationship.

The importance of automating the right things for the right reasons in the right way was another key message in his presentation, and he also noted that the best way to approach AI is to automate value chains not tasks. “Automating certain tasks in isolation will not deliver value,” he stated.

Steyn stressed the importance of a “people-first initiative”. “The approach should never be technology first. Start with considering whether your people can do it. Do you need to recruit people? Consider your organisational design, career planning and the need for upskilling your people,” he urged SAPICS delegates. “Most AI conversations start with technology. They should always start with people,” Steyn said.

“The reason many technology initiatives in business don’t live up to expectations or flatly fail, is that we often underestimate the impact it will have on people, and how they will respond.

“Technology is advancing rapidly but there are things that it cannot do. We must remember that we cannot automate human nature and common sense. The value of people should always be our main focus and ethics should underpin all our technological endeavours. The disruptive power of new technologies needs a new breed of ethical, human-centric, leadership in business,” Steyn said.