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It’s time to take a step back and re-examine how complex we’ve made things and really start to evaluate where we can take the human factor and the new technological advances, put them together, and get the best of both worlds out of that.
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New technologies among supply chain firms have the opportunity to enhance human decision-making. However, it is unlikely that full rationality will ever be achieved through technological control mechanisms or computational power. That’s where the human factor reigns supreme.
Dr. LaDonna Thornton
LaDonna Thornton, Assistant Professor in Supply Chain Management at the Harbert College of Business, co-authored the editorial “How to deal with the Human Factor in Supply Chain Management” published by the International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management. The editorial discussed the growing need for technology, but the absolute necessity of human decision-makers in the workplace.
“Supply chains are very complex,” said Thornton. “All of these complexities to service the customers are becoming taxing on people within the supply chain. As the world becomes more complex to service customers, we need to start thinking about how employees are affected by this and what type of employees we need. And in light of COVID-19, how do we keep employees safe, while meeting customer needs? Are there opportunities to augment what we do with technology? Technology isn’t the perfect solution, either. It’s time to take a step back and re-examine how complex we’ve made things and really start to evaluate where we can take the human factor and the new technological advances, put them together, and get the best of both worlds out of that.”
Data analysis can provide the raw information to better inform decision-makers. Sometimes, however, those making the decisions go against the data. “They say, ‘We’ve always done it that way,’” Thornton noted. “Whereas, you can have artificial intelligence that can analyze the information and help you make a more informed decision that isn’t necessarily based on historical precedent. You have intuition versus actual data that can give you a predictive analysis so you can make a more informed decision.”
Technology has already replaced the human factor in many service-oriented areas, particularly phone calls or computer chats with supposed company agents. Instead, they are often bots programmed to answer questions. ‘When will my delivery arrive?’ ‘Can I cancel my order?’ “Artificial Intelligence is going to answer as many questions as it can based on the data it has,” Thornton said. “But I still think that there is a large segment of the population that doesn’t want to deal with that. They don’t want to talk to a bot. They want a person.”
“Sometimes technology can give you the answers cold and fast,” she added. “But I’m looking at the people that are within that supply chain and how to better serve them. How does this play into consumer welfare?"”
Thornton is a behavioral researcher in supply chain and noted that for as much data analysis and information technology and Artificial Intelligence can provide, it’s just that … artificial. It can’t feel. It doesn’t have compassion.
“Sometimes technology can give you the answers cold and fast,” she added. “But I’m looking at the people that are within that supply chain and how to better serve them. How does this play into consumer welfare? How do we meet the safety concerns of customers in this new delivery environment created by COVID-19?
“Look at delivery complaints …. There’s a woman who says, ‘I didn’t get my delivery. I can’t leave the house, I’m elderly and I have a preexisting condition. I’m depending on this delivery for necessities’ Maybe when you use the AI, it says, ‘This delivery parameter does not work. We’re going to have to delay the delivery.’ Whereas talking to a human you can make a connection, talk through it, and make an exception. There is a strength and a comfort for some customers in having a human decision-maker there.”
Thornton’s editorial concludes that human decision-makers bring individual competencies that are ethically-oriented to supply chain management decision processes. These competencies, paired with the decision guidance about complex problems provided by Artificial Intelligence, can create a formidable supply chain manager.