For most people, the holidays are a time of joy (and maybe also a little stress) as they get ready to share a meal with family and friends. But for retailers who need to accurately predict inventory needs, orders, and get all the different components of those holiday meals for our table, it’s even more stressful.

A typical holiday meal might include protein, fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy, sweets, and drinks. But that’s just what we consume. The entire experience requires a lot more. It takes ingredients for each course, paper products for decorations, and packaging to hold everything together. It also takes energy in the form of oil, gas, and electricity to move everything and get it to your table.

It’s not just one supply chain, it’s many. Working backwards from the table, we’ve got farms, factories, warehouses, and distribution centers in a complex web of having the right products in right places, and at the right times.

Getting all of this right requires an intelligent planning process that starts many months out. And even if everything does go right, a single disruption, whether it’s local, like an unseasonable storm, or global, like a geopolitical crisis, can prevent families from having what they want when they need it.

Businesses have made progress at anticipating customer needs and predicting variables in order to be more prepared during high volume times like the holidays. They have better tools that help them track products from farm to fork, but also incorporate patterns in customer demand.

They have even started to factor in sustainable practices. But as the pandemic taught us, intelligent systems are paramount to being able to navigate the unexpected. New technologies like generative AI are starting to allow all new scenarios at an accelerated pace. Combined with more traditional AI and machine learning solutions, they’re already making supply chains more resilient – and we’re just scratching the surface.

According to McKinsey, implementing AI-enabled supply chain management solutions has already allowed those early adopters to improve their logistics costs by 15 per cent, their inventory levels by 35 per cent, and their service levels by 65 per cent compared to those who don’t use them.

The number one concern we hear from SAP customers is that they want to be future proof. They want to be resilient to all kinds of uncertainty and be able to bounce back quickly when the unforeseen happens. This is especially critical for moving products through vulnerable supply chains when their customers are counting on them. Generative AI is getting us closer.

One of the most important tools in supply chain planning is probabilistic forecasting, where companies can use data on many more variables that are changing in real time to provide planners with an even narrower range of possible outcomes.

It is already available today in its early form. But when it is infused with the power of generative AI, provided by companies like SAP that are already deeply integrated across business processes and industries, it has the potential to finally make supply chains truly future proof.

No technology can ever remove the chaos of the holiday season. But generative AI could at least take away some of the stress associated with making sure everything is in place to pull off the perfect holiday meal.