New forms of learning take the supply chain by storm

online learning

COVID-19 has dramatically increased the demand for online learning, as demonstrated by the success of Supply Chain Media’s webinars. And in view of the meteoric rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the way of learning will change much more. A recent Webinar Wednesday showcased three new, promising and AI-supported forms of learning, including the new SCM WisDome knowledge platform.

By Marcel te Lindert

Although supply chain professionals are increasingly meeting and networking in person once again after the pandemic, this is not leading to a decline in remote learning for training purposes. This is backed up by McKinsey’s research into the popularity of online learning. The findings show that this form of learning is especially highly valued in Southern and Central America and the Middle East.

Muddassir Ahmed, founder and CEO of SCMDojo, understands why. “In Saudi Arabia, for example, people are strongly encouraged to develop themselves. They can claim training costs back from the government, and the younger generations in particular take full advantage of this option. They want to learn from the best, and those people are often in Europe and the USA. There’s also a strong need for knowledge in Mexico because of the nearshoring trend. Many companies that produce for the US market are moving their manufacturing activities from China to Mexico.”

Oppenheimer moment

The emergence of remote learning is only an intermediate step in the evolution of the training offering. “The ‘Oppenheimer moment’ occurred in November 2022, when ChatGPT was launched. We have seen that ChatGPT sometimes answers questions better than universities and other training institutions,” stated Amin Kaboli, a lecturer at Swiss university EPFL and also Chief Strategy Officer at supply chain start-up Lagrange.AI. “Does this mean we’re moving towards artificial intelligence-based learning? We will probably see a combination of classical learning formats and new ones.”

The preferred learning format depends on needs and circumstances. AI-assisted learning allows for personalization and instant feedback, thus enhancing the learning experience. And needless to say, the reach is greater than classroom-based learning. “The challenge lies in striking the right balance between the types of learning and deploying the learning formats that best suit each talented individual,” Kaboli added.

Real-time AI-based learning

Kaboli went on to explain how AI can be used for real-time learning in increasingly complex supply chains. “Imagine an employee at a meeting, who hears his colleagues talking about demand fluctuations and the bullwhip effect and wants to know the precise difference between the two. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a tool that enabled him to ask that question and also follow-up questions, such as about the bullwhip effect in his own supply chain? If the tool had access to the right data, it could even advise on measures that could be taken to counteract the bullwhip effect.”

The use of such a tool, with access to all kinds of data, is not entirely without risks. Think of issues related to privacy, security and reliability of the tool, for example. It is also important to retain the human factor in decision-making processes. “And don’t forget the ethical aspect of deploying AI. There should be no bias; if you implement the tool in different regions, differences between the users and the questions they ask should not produce different answers.”

Soft skills and digital knowhow

SCMDojo primarily uses videos as a learning format. “I studied the supply chain training offerings of 72 training institutes. What those institutes do is mainly teach the classical competencies people need in supply chain,” Ahmed said. “But if you want to be successful in supply chain, you also need soft skills, such as negotiation skills, stakeholder management, change management and people management. Besides that, we’ve been inundated with new technologies in recent years, from 3D printing and blockchain to machine learning and the Internet of Things. So our videos also focus on improving soft skills and digital knowhow.”

SCMDojo already has more than 200 lessons and 40 hours of video material, and the amount of content is growing every month. “Our own research among 900 supply chain professionals shows that 70% regard traditional training courses as very expensive or even unaffordable in many countries. In addition, access to certain content is a problem. We offer videos showing best practices. How do you optimize your warehouse? How do you avoid dead stock? And how do you make a business case for your technology project?”

New knowledge platform: SCM WisDome

Supply Chain Media has developed its own online learning environment called SCM WisDome, built on a large database containing all of the company’s magazine articles, 80% of which are not publicly available online. “SCM WisDome provides access to all this content,” said Supply Chain Media’s Martijn Lofvers. “The platform can be used in four ways: for onboarding new colleagues, for talent development, for sharing knowledge and for identifying interesting trends relevant to your company.”

Similar to the Netflix system, after users create a personal profile in SCM WisDome, the underlying AI tool recommends articles to them. “If a new demand planner has just started, the system will show him the articles that his colleagues have previously liked. And as a manager, you can see what your employees are reading, what they are searching for and whether they are finding the knowledge that they’re looking for. This is a powerful dashboard that provides insight into the topics that are top of mind within the organization.”

Stimulating innovation

The SCM WisDome platform has been tested by multiple multinational companies and students. This resulted in ideas for new ways to use the platform, such as ways to stimulate innovation. Lofvers: “Give ten high-potential employees four weeks in which to prepare a pitch for a supply chain start-up that can help your company move forward. In the first week they read one article a day about scenarios, in the second week about strategy, and in the third week about start-ups. After reading those 15 articles, the talents will already be equipped to make a good pitch. That’s one effective way to make use of this knowledge platform.”