Walmart: AI Helps Create ‘Ready for Anything’ Supply Chains

What gets measured ultimately gets improved.

And when it comes to supply chain management, that old adage couldn’t be truer.

Fortunately for businesses, despite ongoing supply chain disruptions and operational uncertainties, there have never been more opportunities to move goods from point A to point B in the most efficient, effective, expedited and secure way possible.

In era marked by rapid technological advancements and unprecedented innovations, the supply chain landscape has undergone a significant transformation as a result of the interplay between solutions built leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and large advances in the accessibility and cost of computing power.

“The culmination of those three things have revolutionized how we look at supply chain processes, all the way from demand forecasting to understanding at a granular level what customer needs are,” Parvez Musani, SVP, End-to-End Fulfillment, Walmart U.S. Omni Platforms and Tech, told PYMNTS.

“The integration of AI, ML, and vast computing power, coupled with an abundance of data, has transformed our approach to demand forecasting, inventory flow, and cost optimization,” Musani said.

Still, despite these technological advancements, certain elements of the supply chain have remained constant and immutable.

“What has remained consistent is the importance of agility and safety…and customers’ demands haven’t changed, either. They want things when they want them, where they want them, and how they want them,” added Musani.

And despite the proclivity for unexpected events and disruptions to throw a wrench into supply chain planning, it ultimately remains up to businesses to deliver against their customer base’s growing expectations around convenience — or see those customers switch to the competition.

Navigating the Evolution of the Modern Supply Chain

The integration of data from various sources, including IoT devices, customer interactions, weather patterns, social media trends and macroeconomic conditions, has revolutionized contemporary supply chain management by enabling firms to enhance inventory accuracy, reduce operational expenses, and accelerate network speed, ultimately improving the shopping experience for customers.

“The advent of smartphones has provided us with real-time data that enhances our visibility and allows us to react proactively,” Musani said, noting that this data integration is crucial for maintaining agility and meeting customer needs effectively.

He added that he envisions the ideal supply chain as highly integrated and data-driven, where “all the decision making is automated,” with resilience and reliability at its core.

Today, this vision translates into a seamless flow of information across the supply chain, built atop real-time visibility, and AI-driven decision-making. “We leverage AI to simulate potential disruptions and prepare proactive responses,” Musani said.

This proactive approach ensures that Walmart is well-prepared to handle disruptions, from natural disasters to sudden shifts in customer behavior, and Musani emphasized the importance of flexibility and nimbleness in supply chain operations when it comes to consistently delivering on promises made to customers.

“Customers who can count on you during challenging times will reward you with their continued business … Businesses must be able to adjust to disruptions quickly,” he said. “Having relief points in the supply chain, such as standing up new nodes or direct-to-customer inventory flows, can help manage surges in demand.”

Embracing Technology for Supply Chain Resiliency

And as AI and automation become integral to supply chain operations, the nature of the supply chain function itself is evolving.

“Jobs are becoming more fulfilling and high-skilled,” Musani said. “Automation is eliminating mundane tasks, allowing associates to focus on more impactful work.”

This shift not only enhances job satisfaction but also transforms roles into meaningful careers.

Walmart’s Emergency Operations Control, which includes representatives from every part of the organization, plays a vital role in disseminating information and coordinating responses. “By sharing live information and implementing actions based on our AI-driven simulations, we can effectively manage supply chain risks,” Musani said.

Looking ahead, Musani’s key takeaway for supply chain leaders is clear: embrace technology. “AI and ML are transforming supply chains into tech-powered ecosystems,” he said. “Automate decision-making, stay ahead of disruptions, and invest in a reliable, reconfigurable supply chain.”

As he put it, “The best times are yet to come for supply chain innovation.”