For several years, Blue Yonder and Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) have supported a digital transformation of global logistics operations at Bayer Crop Science. Working together, the team has established a common platform, based on Transportation Management and Warehouse Management solutions from Blue Yonder, as well as standardized and automated processes across the company’s enormous logistics footprint. The team’s work at Bayer Crop Science was discussed in three breakout sessions about operational excellence and sustainability during ICON 2024 in mid-May.

While the transformation at Bayer is still underway, already the company’s transportation and warehousing operations in 64 countries have been digitalized — leading to a -3% to 5% reduction in overall transportation spend, a 7% increase in asset utilization, and improved sustainability.

How can the average logistics team capitalize on digitalization and automation to achieve these kinds of results? That was the focus of a recent webinar called “A Guide to Mastering Automation in Transportation, Warehouse, and the Yard,” hosted by DC Velocity and Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ (CSCMP) Supply Chain Xchange.

Joining me for the webinar were Johnny Ivanyi, Global Head of Distribution Excellence at Bayer Crop Science; Vivek Chhaochharia, EY US Digital Supply Chain Leader; and a Blue Yonder Industry Strategy executive. Hosted by Ben Ames, Senior Editor at DC Velocity, the webinar can be viewed on demand. Below are some key themes that emerged about the tough challenges faced by logistics teams today — and how automation can help teams master those obstacles.

Disruptions and Volatility Have Become a Fact of Life

It’s hard to remember a business world that wasn’t characterized by constant disruptions. Supply-and-demand uncertainty — coupled with extreme weather, geopolitical discord and port closures — has raised volatility to a new level in recent years. And unfortunately that extreme uncertainty seems to be the new norm.

“The real challenge in disruption management is that everything is directly connected to the customer experience,” says Ivanyi. “Whether we like it or not, whatever is happening backstage is impacting our ability to serve our customers. We need to make sure we’re protecting our customer promises and minimizing any negative impacts. And that’s one of the goals of our transformation at Bayer Crop Science, to ensure that our logistics workflows and plans remain on track even when we experience disruptions.”

Chhaochharia, of EY US, agrees. “Whether it’s the conflicts across Israel or Ukraine, or the Baltimore bridge accident, these are unplanned events that logistics teams need to respond to both quickly and strategically,” he points out. “Having the right resiliency program and the right resiliency capabilities to handle these disruptions is key. That’s where automated execution comes in.”

“Four or five years ago, visibility of goods was the foremost thing on everybody’s mind,” adds Blue Yonder’s Industry Strategy executive. “We’ve now tipped over to disruption management and achieving more predictable outcomes, like controlling costs, when faced with uncertainty. Regarding the evolving situations in Baltimore and the Panama Canal, how are we able to navigate around these logistics challenges? What’s exciting is we’re seeing companies like Bayer evolve to a digitalized, automated and even autonomous approach where they can solve these problems immediately, as they occur.”

Automated Execution Is the Clear Solution

“When people hear ‘logistics automation,’ they think of warehouse robots or autonomous trucks. And those are critical in addressing the industry’s serious labor shortage,” says Chhaochharia. “But in terms of managing disruptions, automation is really about making and implementing the right decisions quickly.”

“We can’t be in a situation where something goes wrong and we need to manually figure out what to do,” he continues. “We need to be able to respond very, very fast — and digital capabilities, enabled by artificial intelligence, enable us to do that. We can quickly look at scenarios and execute the right action. We’ve been using Blue Yonder’s Transportation Modeling solution to drive higher resiliency at Bayer Crop Science and it’s created so many opportunities to control costs and service, even during disruptions.”

“The question we’re focused on at Blue Yonder is ‘How do we make outcomes more predictive?’” notes Blue Yonder’s Industry Strategy executive.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning-driven models for managing uncertainty are key to our warehouse, transportation and other solutions. It’s really geared toward automating information flow, which then makes it possible to automate the movement of physical goods from point A to point B. We are not just supporting multivariate optimization, which is already very advanced, but then we’re adding capabilities to make execution more autonomous. To keep up with volatility, logistics operations often need to pivot quickly, without waiting for human intervention.

Ivanyi, of Bayer, points out that automated execution has the power to optimize not just disruption management but everyday decisions. “Once you have logistics digitalization, you have end-to-end visibility, which creates huge benefits,” he states. “I can see the TMS connecting with ocean carriers, rail carriers and truckload carriers. I can see specific routes and customer delivery options. And that is really powerful. There are no more silos. It’s truly end to end. Having a digital platform creates an ecosystem.”

“In that ecosystem, you not only can solve problems, but you can also increase sustainability every day, which is a top priority for Bayer Crop Science,” Ivanyi explains. “We can deliver a product in 24 or 48 hours during peak season, but what are the associated CO2 emissions? Does the customer really need the product that quickly? By integrating systems across internal functions, customers, and even raw materials suppliers, you can make — and execute — better-quality, collaborative decisions that maximize all your outcomes, from service and costs to sustainability.”

Get Started on Your Own Automated Execution Journey

The benefits achieved by Bayer Crop Science and other logistics leaders are impressive — but how can you get there? In part two of this blog series, our experts will give advice on how to get started, as well as the keys to success. Don’t forget to watch the full webinar on-demand here.