To that end, Johnson has launched an enterprise BI initiative to integrate the systems and upgrade existing data warehouses that track the data, which can be startlingly granular when it comes to the contents of pallets or containers. "It's not really a big data challenge -- it's a small data challenge. But to get to the small data, you have to go through the big data."
It's a small data challenge, but to get to the small data, you have to go through the big data. Nathan Johnson, Ports America
In addition to potentially smoothing out the supply chain at the beginning of the process, analytics technology can also help later in the process. Ranjit Thaker is CIO of Broomfield, Colo.-based Network Global Logistics, a third-party logistics (3PL) provider specializing in time-critical deliveries and aftermarket service support for the healthcare industry. "The supply chain challenges are totally different when you're a manufacturer getting supplies to a retailer versus getting an organ to the hospital when someone is being prepped for surgery."
Thaker cites the example of one client, a manufacturer whose medical devices cost six to seven figures each. "There's a high level of analytics involved in calculating where you need to warehouse replacement parts for those devices," he says. In order to avoid warehousing expensive parts that may be used infrequently, NGL's analytics involves mapping the physical location of manufacturers' warehouses, the ages of the machines at the medical facilities, the mean time between failure (MBTF) of those machines, the criticality of the parts and the cost of getting equipment to locations.
"It's complicated, because the parts may be critical but they cost thousands of dollars and may only have been needed ten times in the past five years," Thaker explains. "Doing the analytics helps them optimize their inventory."
Calculate cost vs. risk
The issue of cost is, of course, considerable in calculating supply chain risk and vulnerability. The conundrum facing manufacturers regarding cost is two-edged: Every time you audit the product, it creates friction in the supply chain.
And then there's the consumer to consider, especially when it comes to consumables and expensive goods that have a cachet. Supply chain advances are "changing in the food industry, any place where the product touches or goes into the human body, because of the health risk," says Accenture's Alvarenga. He believes that for certain products, the day will come when the consumer will be able to scan smart packaging using a smartphone camera and see exactly where a product came from.