Running a Supply Chain with Real-time APIs and Generative AI

5 min read Stephen Blum on Mar 25, 2024

Tl;dr: Real-time APIs can be used to enhance supply chain and distribution networks. 

Companies in the transport, delivery, and logistics industry today need a constant flow of information from their supply chains to keep their operations running smoothly. This data can include delivery status, a driver’s location, inventory shortages, or even vehicle maintenance schedules. However, due to the number of devices sending, collecting, and delivering this data, the information flow can break down in any number of ways and lead to errors, increased costs, and customer dissatisfaction. 

A supply chain management solution can shore up the security of this data flow by using real-time APIs to automate tasks, provide analytics, and enable real-time communication across devices, teams, and systems. That said, there are challenges with adopting real-time APIs and transitioning from traditional internal data buses to more accessible and secure communication systems. I recently contributed a shared LinkedIn article about streamlining the flow of information in a distribution network and wanted to expand on the topic a bit more.

APIs for supply chain optimization

So as we’ve established, the ability to exchange data efficiently across points in the supply chain is a requirement for smooth operations. Conversely, a poor flow of information can lead to errors, increased costs in operations, and unsatisfied customers. 

The integration of real-time application programming interfaces (APIs) into your logistics framework offers a powerful solution to these challenges. Here are five steps on how you can leverage these technologies to streamline your distribution network.

1. Assess your current state

The first step is to understand what information you’re currently gathering as well as what information you’re not. Before you can optimize your supply chain information flow, you’ll need to understand what your company's strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and opportunities are when it comes to information and data control.

2. Define your information requirements

You won’t know what to implement if you don’t know what you need! In this situation, it might be helpful to create a map of all the different types of information that will need to be gathered, as well as how it’ll be used:

  • Object and Measure: These are the raw data that you’ll want to gather. Objects can be anything from chat messages, packages, vehicles, or customers; while measures are the thing you’ll be tracking with regards to the object (frequency, location, time, price, quantity, etc.). 

  • Stakeholders: Who needs information? This can include customers, vendors, internal departments, etc.

  • Frequency: How often will this information need to be pulled? Some pieces may only need to be pulled for weekly reports. But others, like the current location of a package, may need to be updated constantly and in real time.

3. Implementation

Once you’re ready to implement the means by which you’ll be gathering data, you’ll want to use every tool that’s available to you. But at the same time, it’ll be essential to make sure that the information gathered is standardized. This is where automation, analytics, and APIs take center stage. 

Our customers have used PubNub to streamline communications, inform their customers and drivers quickly, and keep their businesses running smoothly. This tutorial will walk you through how to install and use PubNub to develop logistics and delivery solutions.

4. Implement and embrace analytics, automation, and APIs

Once you’re ready to implement the means by which you’ll be gathering data, you’ll want to make sure you’ve created an implementation that moves without delays, has minimal errors, and has a fantastic uptime. Enter automation and APIs.

Automation leverages technology—such as software and artificial intelligence—to execute repetitive or complex tasks without manual intervention. With Generative AI, Large Language Models (LLMs) can perform data-entry tasks cost-effectively. On the other hand, ignoring automation and data analysis can result in businesses falling behind in the contemporary, fast-paced market. 

Companies are adopting these technologies while setting new industry standards and creating a competitive edge. Remaining stagnant and not leveraging these tools can lead to an inability to meet customer standards, resulting in operational inefficiencies as new expectations are defined. Embracing automation and data analytics is a critical move to remain competitive and relevant in today's digitally driven business landscape.

The tasks AI can perform range from data entry and validation to scheduling and reporting. AI can then use the data it entered to uncover insights that facilitate informed decision-making and efficient action across your distribution network. This analysis may involve recognizing patterns, predicting trends, and providing measurable feedback on operations. With intelligent data analysis, more strategic decisions can optimize the supply chain processes and increase efficiency. Sensors, chatbots, and data dashboards can significantly elevate the speed, accuracy, and intelligence of your information flow, translating to a more streamlined operation.

5. Monitor and improve your information flow

This is the all-important continuous improvement step! Once you’ve implemented automated analytics, you’ll need to monitor it to make sure the data gathered is timely and accurate. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have an information flow that runs in real-time without any manual data entry. But implementation is tricky, and that’s why we recommend doing spot-checks on the data to ensure its accuracy. This is also the step where you (or, in all likelihood, your boss) might realize that there are more metrics and measures that you want to capture.

Advanced APIs

The backbone of this information flow is created with advanced APIs that support automation and analytics. Automation APIs handle tasks autonomously—such as real-time system updates—thereby minimizing the need for manual oversight. When combined with analytics APIs, these technologies can sift through extensive data sets to predict trends and optimize decision-making, ultimately enhancing the responsiveness and efficiency of your distribution network.

Real-Time APIs

Distribution networks need the ability to communicate instantly across devices, teams, and systems. This is where real-time APIs come into play. By integrating a robust real-time messaging system into your logistics operations, you can ensure that information flows seamlessly and instantly. This instantaneous communication facilitates a transparent and efficient data exchange, enabling you to identify and address bottlenecks promptly, anticipate potential delays, and adjust to supply chain disruptions or changes in demand. Integrating real-time APIs into your logistics framework transforms it into an agile, resilient, and customer-centric operation and makes supply chains more resilient.

Edge APIs

A key challenge in adopting these technologies is the transition from traditional internal data buses, such as Kafka or AMQP, to a more accessible and secure communication system for app developers. These professionals, responsible for creating user interfaces on various devices, often find themselves barred from directly accessing the wealth of information on internal data buses. This is where Edge APIs come into play, offering a solution by connecting internal data buses in a secure, read-only fashion. This enables user interface developers to access real-time data effortlessly, fostering improved user experiences and immediate updates critical for effective teamwork and decision-making.

Operations can embrace a future where real-time data and efficient communication drive success. The integration of APIs focused on automation, analytics, and real-time information exchange is a step toward new opportunities and customer satisfaction. 

Making use of services like PubNub's APIs will help with automation, making sense of data, and sharing information quickly. This can lead to better chances for growth and happier customers. PubNub offers a platform that makes tasks automatic and instant. This brings an understanding of data and ensures quick sharing of information. Using Real-time APIs will upgrade how supply chain and distribution networks work, and they’re a step into a future where tasks are done more efficiently.