Technology used to create sustainable supply chains

By Peter Derksen | November 29, 2016

At ChainPoint we firmly believe that technology has the ability to change and transform supply chains, making them more efficient, sustainable and resilient. In today’s supply chains there are many stakeholders involved who produce raw materials that are used to create the many products we consume every day. Think of minerals in electronics, cocoa in chocolate or cotton in your t-shirt. Many supply chains have become detached, are not transparent and have many social, ethical and environmental issues.

Milton Friedman, the supply chain of a lead pencil

Milton Friedman explains perfectly in this video what it takes to create a simple product such as a lead pencil. Literally thousands of people worked together in supply chains across the world to produce the lead pencil, illustrating that supply chains are long and disconnected. Technology plays a vital role in connecting and creating visibility in supply chains, uncovering issues that need to be addressed and monitoring the progress being made.

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Milton Friedman points out the remarkable degree of cooperation between people from many different countries, who’ve never even met, to make what appears to be a very simple product – a pencil.

Supply chain mapping and traceability

In order to create visibility across long and complex supply chains, stakeholders need to be connected using supply chain mapping and traceability. The output of one stakeholder is the input for another stakeholder, with these transactions being recorded along the supply chain. In many cases, supply chain transactions are currently stored using a range of disparate means, including paper, Excel or ERP systems. But by gathering all this data into a single software platform, you can trace individual products and their ingredients back along the full supply chain. Supply chain data no longer remains enclosed in individual silos, but is unlocked for full supply chain visibility. Traceability has gained a lot of interest in recent years. With the emergence of machine-to-machine communication, sensor-based data and more advanced mobile apps, the amount of data that can be traceable along the chain will only increase. The challenge is to connect and collect all data in order to make sense of it and make informed decisions.

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Traceability along the supply chain, beyond tier 1 suppliers

How to connect supply chains

At ChainPoint we use a wide range of technologies to connect supply chains. Easy to use and configurable web-based forms are used for manual data capture, for example - often at the very start of a supply chain. Increasingly, these forms are also mobile enabled, offering data capture in the field using apps with offline data collection capabilities. Further downstream, data silos in existing software systems are connected using APIs, web services, file uploads and secure FTP file transfers. Integrating data from across the whole supply chain means that multiple data gathering and integration options need to be considered.

Data analysis

In addition to the information used to create visibility and traceability, you will also need to gather specific data on each stakeholder such as social, ethical, quality and environmental performance. Once collected, there are multiple ways to make sense of all the data that has been gathered. Reports and advanced interactive analytics charts can be used to display important operational and sustainability KPIs. For example, trends in the rise in damage to produce caused by pests in a certain region might be analysed and connected to an early warning mechanism. This early warning mechanism can enable ground teams to respond to pests much earlier, preventing further damage.

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The ChainPoint platform gathers all data and turns it into actionable information using interactive dashboards.

Future technologies to consider

Technologies such as offline mobile data collection and the Internet of Things (IoT) are new technologies that have gained more attention lately. ChainPoint continues to monitor the applicability of these technologies in supply chains. While these technologies will certainly be valuable in specific parts of supply chains, our experience also shows that technology must remain simple to use and accessible - especially at the upstream end of the supply chain. In Africa, for example, SMS text messaging remains a reliable and cost-effective way of both gathering and distributing data. In the future, with improved internet coverage, smartphone apps and IoT-connected sensors will almost certainly be used more widely. It is often not the technology that drives data collection, but the will to work together and share data, in any way possible. Collaboration is key!  

More information

Please contact us to learn more on how ChainPoint's technology can help create sustainable and efficient supply chains. 

Posted in analytics, supply chain collaboration, traceability, supply chain mapping

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