The extraordinary growth of available data can be a crucial resource for optimizing and safeguarding supply chains, but only if sophisticated digital solutions are in place which proactively use this information. Emerging cognitive-analytics platforms are already modeling likely outcomes by instantly assessing vast amounts of a company’s supply chain information, as well as data from news media, weather services, suppliers, logistics firms and transportation companies. The platforms then alert managers throughout the supply chain to new disruption risks or help them explore options for addressing day-to-day fluctuations in demand, supplies, and vendor performance.
"As cognitive-analytics platforms learn more about what is really happening, they filter out extraneous information so supply chain managers can focus on what’s most relevant and meaningful," says Pierre Mitchell, chief research officer at Azul Partners, a technology research and advisory firm specializing in supply chain management.
Supply chain managers are also exploring a secure, shared ledger known as "blockchain." It uses electronic sensors and dedicated radio frequencies to communicate the location of products via secure Internet connections to central management systems. "With blockchains, companies gain the ability to track what is happening to goods at every stage of the supply chain," Dittmann says. These details also document the custody chain and help companies more accurately predict delivery times and maintain quality control, he adds.
These solutions are complemented by data-modeling technologies that can show the neighborhood-level business impact of weather, news and social-media trends in real time. These emerging benefits are already making an impact. "There is better visibility into global supply chains, and companies have the ability to more accurately predict what may happen in the future," Dittmann says.
In 2010, supply chain managers had to wait and see how the ripple effect would impact their business. Today, so much more is possible. With the right solutions, supply chains can maintain efficiency while improving resilience and responsiveness. And these qualities will be invaluable when Katla — or an eruption of a different type — sets off the next global disruption.