Solving Supply Chain Issues with Conversational AI

March 29, 2022’s Athena smart assistant makes user interaction with artificial intelligence easier to improve supply chain operations such as monitoring safety stocks, forecasting stockouts, and receiving supplier price alerts to avoid margin loss.

The application of artificial intelligence (AI) to data analytics continues to be a growing area of automation technology. In analytics applications of AI, the AI technology typically remains comfortably behind the scenes and out of reach of the user. As such, the AI is like the old Intel Inside ads launched in the 1990s in that it powers the system but you don’t interact with it directly as a user.

New advances in technology surrounding AI are making this complex area of computing more understandable and interactive. An example of this interactive AI can be found in’s Athena smart assistant.

In an Innovation Stage presentation at PACK EXPO 2022 discussing supply chain applications of AI, Jordan Howard, director of sales at, explained that users of the platform can ask questions of Athena, which directs the platform to create reports based on user questions. This process of asking questions to an automated system and receiving answers is known as conversational AI.

“Users of’s supply chain optimization software can ask questions such as: What are shipped revenues for this year? What is our revenue by inventory order? or What are our top products by SKU?” said Howard. Questions can be asked via voice or text.

The data to provide these answers are pulled from enterprise systems as well as customer-facing online and social systems. Howard said the company has more than 100 built-in drivers to enterprise systems such as SAP and e-commerce systems, as well as Google Analytics and basic data collection software such as Excel.

Watch this Take5 with Automation World video to learn more about the AI explosion in industrial automation.

Howard said interaction with the system starts with your “need to know” insights provided by Athena that offer a big picture overview of your supply chain operations and where issues might occur. Based on questions users ask of Athena, in addition to the system’s regular reports, Athena then analyzes the trends “so you don’t have to keep asking those questions,” added Howard. 

According to, personalized analytics delivered via interaction with the Athena smart assistant—rather than standardized analytics reports—enables the reports to address specific user preferences, parameters, and metrics. It also helps filter out unwanted data for more organized dashboards to focus user attention on what they need and want to see.

Workbenches in the platform address automation of demand planning, supply planning, and production planning.  “It also monitors forecasts by actuals to help users see where they need to pivot,” said Howard. “The software also helps assess the business impact of stockouts and learns how to place orders based on lead times to avoid future stockout situations.”

Common issues addressed by the’s platform include:

  • Monitoring safety stocks since, with today’s supply chain disruptions, users can’t “set and forget it anymore,” Howard said;
  • Forecasting stockouts through more accurate demand projections;
  • Automating creation of new reports, dashboards, and purchase orders;
  • Identifying non-moving inventory and segmenting products, vendor, and customer data to better understand supply chain movement; and
  • Receiving alerts for price increases so that manufacturers can add costs to quoted prices before margins are lost.

During his presentation, Howard discussed the use of’s platform by MavPak, a packaging materials and distribution company. “We started working with them in 2018  when they had $3 million in revenues and seven employees, two of which were customer success team members. After setting up the system to create a self-service environment for employees, automating purchase order generation, and producing business insights, MavPak has experience 7x growth, with hundreds of new customers, and has only needed to add one new customer success team member to handle this growth.

About the Author

David Greenfield, editor in chief | Editor in Chief

David Greenfield joined Automation World in June 2011. Bringing a wealth of industry knowledge and media experience to his position, David’s contributions can be found in AW’s print and online editions and custom projects. Earlier in his career, David was Editorial Director of Design News at UBM Electronics, and prior to joining UBM, he was Editorial Director of Control Engineering at Reed Business Information, where he also worked on Manufacturing Business Technology as Publisher. 

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