Global supply chain disruption costs the average large business $189 million a year – despite the deployment of more than 10 billion IoT devices worldwide, which are constantly adding data to already overflowing data stores. The problem is not a lack of data, which is why IoT is not the answer. By Toby Mills (pictured), founder and CEO of supply chain visibility pioneer Entopy

At the heart of the problem is the fact that a supply chain has numerous stakeholders operating in different jurisdictions, across multiple enterprise platforms and often in several languages. Creating effective connections between them is the real challenge.

With goods moving between different physical locations and a variety of independent stakeholders, achieving visibility of every part of the supply chain is difficult. It is comparatively simple to digitise a factory – with everything under one roof and controlled by one organisation. But an entire global supply chain is a very different matter. Mobile devices enable single stakeholders to track and monitor outside their respective domains. However, the cost of such devices is prohibitive, and they present operational challenges, such as maintenance and retrieval.

As a result, although there is no shortage of data to achieve granular visibility throughout the supply chain, it is fragmented across a variety of siloed systems, each owned, operated and controlled by different independent organisations. To unlock the benefits, the data needs to be captured and combined, while maintaining privacy between the respective organisations – and very different data needs to be brought together in a way that can deliver the coherent visibility required.

New data mesh technology is now providing a breakthrough – unlocking value from even the most challenging supply chains through the use of intelligent data orchestration. Data mesh is based on distributed architecture for analytical data management and enables end users to easily access and query data where it lives – without first transporting it to a data lake or data warehouse.

This means data from multiple supply chain systems can be captured and combined to create a ‘digital twin’ of a consignment – providing a single data product from which all stakeholders can get the visibility they need. Leveraging data across the supply chain enables a much fuller picture to be achieved at a granular level. And, as the data is from existing systems used in the day-to-day running of the various organisations, it is of high quality, can be trusted, and the systems are well maintained.

Intelligent data orchestration is then what connects and harmonises the different supply chain systems in a way that allows them to work together. Think of it like an orchestra. The musicians do not work directly with one another. Instead, they follow the lead of a conductor – a central point that is directing the musicians.

To achieve cross-stakeholder visibility, a conductor is needed in the supply chain – a central function capable of managing communication between stakeholders and their respective systems. The ‘conductor’ takes centre stage and synchronises all the various data inputs. Each separate system communicates directly and only to the conductor platform – removing the need for numerous discrete connections and maintaining data integrity. As each digital twin is created, proprietary algorithms define and assign policies to it to ensure only relevant data is captured from each connected system.

Data from order management and transport management systems is combined with more real-time data sources from other systems present across the supply chain. For example, consignment and inventory data can be combined with transport schedules and allocated transport. The telematics system of the associated transport vehicle provides real-time location and condition data from the consignment which, when combined with analytics, generates detailed consignment lifecycle records, capturing key events throughout. These events can be communicated across the supply chain, improving communication, and paving the way to automation of processes. 

The increasing complexity of supply chains is making optimisation more challenging than ever, while the cost of inefficiencies is growing. Research suggests that businesses with optimal supply chains can halve their inventory holdings, reduce their supply chain costs by 15% and triple the speed of their cash-to-cash cycle. Data mesh and intelligent data orchestration are now providing a new route to unlock supply chain value and deliver competitive advantage.