Gail Moody-Byrd is Chief Marketing Officer and John Kalil is Chief Customer Officer at Noodle.ai, an enterprise artificial intelligence company and a Salesforce customer. This article originally appeared on the Salesforce Blog as “AI Is Keeping Supply Chains Running Throughout the Pandemic” and captures a recent conversation between Gail, John, and Salesforce.
Did you know that demand and inventory planners of consumer goods companies have some of the most stressful jobs on the planet? Their decisions determine if you’ll be able to find the essential products you need when you visit your local retailer. Demand planners use data to anticipate what retailers will order. Inventory planners work through the resources of their organization — warehouses, distribution centers, all of their channels — to make decisions on where and when products reach store shelves.
It’s like playing the abstract strategy board game Go, making sure the right products are in the right parts of the world at the right time. And with the coronavirus as an added variable, this already complex system has become even harder to manage. When the virus hit, the tools that these planners were accustomed to working with became so overwhelmed with the increased unpredictability that many actually turned off their traditional, rules-based planning systems and moved to Excel spreadsheets.
The good news is that advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) are making a positive impact in these challenging times. Our company, Noodle.ai, provides AI to supply chain and manufacturing businesses to assess system-wide volatility and performance issues, identify risks, and recommend actions to optimize business outcomes. With our software, suppliers reduce the need to expedite goods, cut down on quality-based rejections, and ensure products are available when people need them. Every time our AI improves a process, we’re helping to create a smarter and more efficient planet — a world without waste. That’s our mission, and it drives everything we do.
The beauty of artificial intelligence and data science is that both have real power to help people make the world run better. That’s more important than ever in a crisis. Here are a few ways our customers have been using our products and what we’ve all learned along the way about managing through this pandemic.
Building customized roads to recovery
Earlier this year, the pandemic caused more than its fair share of hiccups in the supply chain world. As we’ve all learned to cope with “new normals,” suppliers have entered a rhythm. Things aren’t perfect, but many of our favorite products are available again.
If one thing is certain, it’s that full recovery looks different for every product, category, region, and industry. It’s difficult to make general statements because situations vary across the globe. Everyone needs to plan for something different and consider how their recovery will impact businesses across their entire value chain.
Noodle.ai products help supply chain customers use AI to make smart decisions by modeling what their demand and supply patterns are going to look like. Our AI goes way beyond traditional, rules-based software to make predictions and recommendations based on analysis of system-wide volatility. The incredible comprehensiveness of these predictions and the ease of integration with their existing systems of record make them uniquely actionable for our customers.
Back in January and February 2020, our AI surfaced an unusual fluctuation in demand from the Asia-Pacific region. This is an area that most major supply chains run through, so disruption there has major effects on transit, production, and the ability to ship raw materials. So the fluctuations started to appear in our models. At the same time, we started hearing about the coronavirus and its impact on that region. These signals, plus others, indicated that our customers were on the verge of an impending crisis.
Our product and data science teams immediately pivoted to start providing our customers insights through our products by adding variables not previously considered in our models. We enhanced our AI algorithms with more external data sources such as healthcare employment and transportation logistics to help anticipate the pandemic’s near-term impact as it moved across the globe. We were also able to forecast the shape of our customers’ demand curve, determine whether products were spiking or declining, and show the availability of raw materials. Customers then used this data to validate some of their own instincts and adjust their supply chain and manufacturing processes accordingly.
Thanks to AI, our teams made more accurate predictions to keep supply chains running, and our consumer-products customers created better outcomes for their customers as the novel coronavirus spread worldwide.
Fighting uncertainty with data and strategy
There’s a lot of empathy and care that goes into the work that Noodlers do to build our products for maximum effectiveness and ease of use. When we ingest millions of supply-chain data points from our customers, our product surfaces insights to provide a simple set of recommendations (e.g., reduce/increase/delay production) that planners can accept or reject.
We’ve gotten direct feedback from end users of our products that their stress levels were reduced because Noodle’s tools lessen some of the ambiguity of decision-making in these unpredictable times. We’re helping to make their lives more manageable by providing a tool (Athena Supply Chain AI Suite) that gives planners and leaders confidence about the decisions they make every week to keep supply chains running. This pandemic has strengthened our customer relationships because they view our tool as a trusted advisor.
Similarly, Noodle.ai relies on Salesforce to anchor our sales and marketing decisions in these highly volatile times. Even before the pandemic, Salesforce was the single source of truth for Noodle.ai’s customer relationship information. Salesforce tools like Pardot help us manage account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns, and Chatter provides a central place for our sales and marketing teams to collaborate.
There’s been news coverage about how we’ve helped our customers throughout the pandemic, and interest in Noodle.ai is rising. As a result, we have an influx of new leads. Our applications are very helpful for certain use cases, but there are some industries and use cases that they are not purpose-built for. Salesforce helps us sort through prospects so we can quickly prioritize the ones we’re positioned to help.
Sales and marketing are working as “one team” to develop sales plays, qualify prospects, and guide them through an effective customer journey toward a closed deal.
Because Salesforce is the system of record for everything that happens with our prospects, our teams use the platform to get the full history of whom we’ve spoken to, what we spoke about, when we spoke, and who was involved. We can automatically sort prospects into groups based on how their interests fit our services and address their questions faster. This efficiency has been especially important during the pandemic — we’ve been able to help new customers get started with our AI applications more quickly than ever.
Using AI as a catalyst for change
It’s been incredible to watch our supply chain customers persevere throughout the pandemic, adapting to new challenges daily and making sure the right products are in stock where they’re needed. At Noodle.ai, we feel lucky to be their partners and provide AI solutions that are helping people in difficult times.
Thanks to the “digital heroes” powering supply chains across the globe, real hardships have been avoided, and the world is a better place. We’re eager to keep working with companies to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and create more positive outcomes for everyone, both in the midst of this pandemic and on the other side of it all.
This article originally appeared on the Salesforce Blog as AI Is Keeping Supply Chains Running Throughout the Pandemic.