Supply chain disruptions keeping you up at night? These technologies can help.

Elizabeth Sturcken

 Supply chain disruptions are a growing challenge for businesses large and small. Trade wars, hurricanes, cyber threats, Brexit, border tensions, tainted food – what isn't there to worry about these days?

It helps explain why business leaders across all sectors are turning to innovative technologies to regain control over their distribution channels. Hanging in the balance is their trust with customers, investors and even employees.

In the United States today, fishing vessels equipped with cameras and sensors can produce data on every single catch to ensure retailers specializing in sustainable fish, or restaurants that rely on high-end fish menus, can deliver on what they've promised to sell. It's cutting-edge technology helping everybody's business.

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is part of a consortium of food growers, processors, distributors and retailers that are using an IBM blockchain solution to make their supply chains safer and more sustainable. As part of that effort, Walmart is asking its lettuce and spinach suppliers to input detailed product information on the blockchain database to keep contamination contained – a new system expected to be fully up and running by fall 2019.

In the past, as we saw with that romaine lettuce scare in 2018, it could take up to a week to trace an E.coli problem. With blockchain, Walmart says, it can be done in in 2.2 seconds.

Hear of factory delays before they happen

Capitalizing on this trend, DHL America, the express delivery company, is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect disruptions in a company's supply chain before they cause financial losses and potential reputational damage.

For example, DHL offered a leading European truck manufacturer an interactive map of its end-to-end supply chain that alerts the company of disruptions anywhere in the world, almost in real time. It helps this manufacturer plan emergency shipments and to keep orders on time.

In the could take up to a week to trace an E.coli problem. With blockchain, Walmart says, it can be done in 2.2 seconds.

It's a world of opportunity for companies developing technologies as well as for corporate leaders intent on spotting trouble before it becomes a big problem. In a survey of C-suite executives from companies earning $500 million or more annually, 91 percent agreed that emerging technologies are also helping them better align their bottom line and sustainability goals.

Environmental benefits can be huge, too

From where I sit, businesses have a compelling reason beyond potential disruption to invest in supply chain tracking solutions. Today, 48 percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean energy target they're trying to meet – and for which the public, investors and customers will hold them publicly accountable.

It means they must reduce environmental impacts across their entire value chains, and fast. The new Supply Chain Solutions Center that Environmental Defense Fund recently rolled out in collaboration with 11 organizations will help companies do just that.

The goal of this new platform, I like to say, is to make it as easy for companies to find sustainability solutions for their supply chains as finding a movie on Netflix or a song a Spotify. But the payback is potentially huge: Consumer packaged-goods supply chains account for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and two-thirds of tropical deforestation.

Fishcoin, a blockchain project still under development, could soon give fishermen economic incentives to collect data on a smartphone or via a tablet app and reliably transfer such data throughout their supply chain. It will inspire confidence in with seafood buyers and consumers – including Americans, who get 90 percent of their seafood from abroad.

Such technology solutions are a win-win for any company today.

They help businesses make tangible progress toward their sustainability goals, and give them a hand as they try to unravel the complex opaque mess that is the modern supply chain. They help them build resilient and efficient businesses and to communicate transparently with employees, investors and consumers.

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