How big data builds more resilient supply chains

From reducing food and labour shortages to combating forced and child labour, transparency is the key to resilient and sustainable supply chains
Adv Sr Everstream

If you’ve been to a supermarket recently, you will probably have encountered empty shelves, sky-high prices, or even rationing. These shortages come hot on the heels of an energy crisis, which was preceded by widespread electronics and automotive shortages. Consumers have endured outages like these since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving many to ponder if things will ever return to “normal”.

The source of these issues lies within the supply chain. Supply chains are key to doing business in a globalised world, yet managing them effectively has become increasingly challenging. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have disrupted trade routes and caused commodities shortages, driving up costs for businesses. Protectionism has created new trade barriers, while extreme weather has devastated harvests worldwide.

Moreover, human rights and environmental violations remain hidden deep within supplier networks, and regulatory bodies are taking notice. Big companies in the EU, for example, will soon be expected to ensure that not only they, but also their third-party suppliers, meet the highest standards in areas such as health and safety, sustainability and the protection of human rights.

Companies need full oversight of their supply chains to anticipate and mitigate risks, which isn’t easy. It means gathering detailed information on their partners and the wider market. Billions of data points will be needed to paint a full picture. They must also make sense of this data and turn those insights into action.

Multi-tier visibility

While this may be difficult, it’s possible with the right technology, says supply chain intelligence firm Everstream Analytics. For the last decade, the company has helped global businesses such Google, Schneider Electric, Unilever and Campbell’s to navigate these challenges and build more agile, resilient and sustainable supply chains. 

The company uses big data, artificial intelligence and human analysis to inform supply chain decision-making and offer predictive insights on potential risks to businesses. These could range from extreme weather events and political crises to the availability of raw materials and supply chain bottlenecks.

“We give our clients real-time visibility of their entire value chain, so they see the risks and opportunities ahead,” says Julie Gerdeman, chief executive officer of Everstream Analytics.

We give our clients real-time visibility of their entire value chain, so they see the risks and opportunities ahead

“We surface climate and commodity risks, or human rights violations such as forced labour buried deep in supply chain sub-tiers. The aim is to help companies reduce risk, improve environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance and achieve compliance in an increasingly complex landscape of supply chain regulations.” 

One example of how these laws can affect business is the US Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act (UFLPA). Likewise, new supply chain laws in Germany, Switzerland and France are turning up the pressure on European companies. The EU’s Supply Chain Law, due to be ratified this year, will go a step further. It will require the largest companies operating in the bloc to identify and enforce due diligence obligations throughout their entire value chains with respect to human rights and environmental standards.

Key areas covered include forced and child labour, worker exploitation and environmental violations such as not meeting the Paris Agreement’s climate change goals. The legislation will affect both EU companies and non-EU ones that operate inside the bloc, meaning that many large UK businesses will be affected. Companies that breach the rules are also likely to face hefty fines proportionate to their global turnover.

“As details about the proposed law emerge, one thing is clear: compliance with these regulations requires dynamic mapping, assessments and ongoing monitoring of the entire value chain,” says Gerdeman.

How Everstream works

While this tougher stance from regulators poses challenges, in truth compliance has long been an issue for firms. Companies can suffer severe reputational damage if their third-party vendors or contractors are fined for corruption or bribery, or identified as using modern slavery. And consumers and investors will increasingly cut ties with brands that turn a blind eye.

Everstream’s platform is designed to help supply chain professionals avoid these pitfalls across planning, procurement and logistics. Its platform creates an AI-powered digital twin of a company’s global supply chain, enabling firms to map and visualise their suppliers in prioritised tiers. 

Everstream then applies proprietary intelligence to produce proactive, predictive risk insights and assessments, which are delivered through its own platform or existing platforms such as an ERP, TMS, SRM or supply chain planning solutions. 

“At our core, we’re a big data company,” says Gerdeman. “We pull millions of proprietary and open data streams covering every aspect of today’s complex supply chains – from imports and exports to bills of lading, bills of materials, shipping and media – with a line of sight on every corner of the world, on the ground, in the air and over the water.”

For example, Everstream helped the global medical device maker Becton Dickinson achieve oversight of its entire supply chain as it worked to ensure the smooth flow of its exports. The mapping was done with 90% accuracy, many times higher than the firm had achieved with its own solution.

In another example, Everstream helped a global food manufacturer expose serious risks within its supply chain. During the process, Everstream identified potential shortages of key ingredients, alerted the company, then helped it find alternative suppliers within its own supply chain. The manufacturer had no idea the solution was so close at hand.

Supply chain oversight can be time-consuming, but Everstream automates the process, taking the pressure off companies. Its real-time risk insights track incidents across the most relevant risk categories, including weather, geography, socio-political, labour laws, workforce, production, transportation and ESG risks. 

The firm also offers its clients access to a global team of intelligence solutions analysts, applied meteorologists and data scientists, who can contextualise and enhance the relevancy of data to reduce noise and generate meaningful insights.

“Our platform is enriched with real-world, in-the-moment intelligence from a proprietary network of partners. They can uncover shipment- and container-level insights on everything from port backups to weather disruptions across logistics hubs, countries and modes of transportation,” says Gerdeman.

“While everyone may know that an airport has been forced to close, our network can tell us that cargo is still moving, and that’s crucial intelligence for our clients. The network makes our data and insights smarter.” 

In an uncertain world, supply chain oversight provides a competitive edge. Unforeseen events or regulatory breaches can be hugely damaging to businesses that operate around the world. Yet by harnessing the power of big data, firms can fully understand the risks and take action to protect themselves.

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