How real-time data is having a critical impact on the supply chain. By Jonathan Barrett

According to PwC and the Business Continuity Institute, 75 per cent of companies experience at least one major supply chain disruption per year. In a highly competitive business environment, such disruptions can have a crucial impact on a brand’s operations, reputation, stock market value and, most importantly their relationships with their customers.

Sitting at the centre of business operations, supply chains should be seamless, streamlined and resilient. But delays or inefficiencies in any supply chain can disrupt the process, delivery and timing of mission-critical goods and services, leading to disgruntled customers and a reduced bottom line. This was evident in this year’s KFC and DHL disruption, when a logistical error caused major disruption to the supply chain and the closure of over half of KFC stores across the UK. Compounding this, supply chain inefficiencies and miscommunication are costing UK businesses over £1.5bn in lost productivity, according to analysis of industry data from digital freight forwarder Zencargo.

However, businesses aren’t always able to plan for these crises, with the unknown or the unexpected creating the need to have the right tools in place to restore production quickly and seamlessly. By creating the processes and safeguards to forsee, forecast and alleviate potential problems in the supply chain, businesses can connect disparate pieces of information and make informed decisions faster than ever before, avoiding a business disaster and protecting brand reputation.

The energy industry clearly illustrates this. Recent oil refinery explosions shut down operations of major suppliers in Austria and Canada, ultimately raising oil and gas prices. These events have a fundamental impact on the supply chain and are a catalyst for additional business outcomes that touch other industries as well. The ability to harness publicly available data from multiple sources across geographies, languages and topics in real time can give a comprehensive view of incidents as they happen, and generate immeasurable benefits.

A link in the (supply) chain
In 2017, 71 per cent of people online were social media users – accounting for 2.46 billion users around the world and constituting a huge network of people sharing information in real time. Making sense of publicly available social data and marrying this with a plethora of other data sources at a company’s disposal is an important step in initial event detection.

Social media is defined by its speed and diversity, and when people witness an event live, their natural instincts are to let the world know, via their smartphones. Done at scale, these tools create an instant global response network. Utilising this multitude of sources can generate insights that give businesses a competitive advantage.

Public datasets – from social media to the dark web, blog posts, and beyond – are incredibly useful and provide an effective way to monitor, plan and forecast the impact of events in the supply chain. Whether it’s logistics, infrastructure, or operations, real-time insights give businesses the ability to adapt processes and minimise the downtime and disruption in the supply chain. At the same time, business leaders can communicate the consequences of an incident, such as an outage, to the wider company and manage resources.

A sudden flash of activity may indicate a significant event is taking place. This may be a major road accident or adverse weather conditions that could create a blockage in the supply chain. By being aware of all eventualities early, energy firms can identify if it’s an incident they need to respond to and can react accordingly.

A tool for action
Publicly available data can also be used by businesses as a tool to foster proactive decision-making and resource deployment A notable example stems from the hurricanes that swept across the United States during a period in 2018. Images posted in real time on social media and publicly available updates allowed companies to not only understand the severity of the storm in the moment, but also gauge the impact for the regions in which they operated. Furthermore, local authorities in California used public data to warn local people and businesses of mudslides, allowing firms to anticipate the resulting disruption to their supply chains and react accordingly.

By analysing real-time information, organisations were able to anticipate which routes were likely to be out of service and delay shipments, after which they identified specific areas or suppliers that could aid with the logistics of rerouting goods. Synthesising real-time data can help firms mitigate a supply disruption and reset expectations with customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

Never break the chain
Unexpected events don’t have to bring operations to a standstill or have a detrimental impact on the supply chain. Data sourced from a multitude of data sets can serve as the front line for businesses in mitigating risks and establishing coherent and cohesive contingency plans for every scenario.

No firm wants to face issues in the supply chain, in a world where an outage can cause serious harm to people and cost a business millions. Having the right processes in place and being able to troubleshoot problems quickly using data from across multiple sources, languages and geographies can ultimately mean the difference between business success and failure.

Jonathan Barrett is MD EMEA, at Dataminr, a global real-time information discovery company. Its clients are the first to know about high-impact events and critical breaking information so they can act faster and stay one step ahead. Dataminr’s solutions for Corporate Security, Finance, Public Sector, News, and PR/Communications professionals are relied on 24/7 by hundreds of clients in over 70 countries. The company discovers high-impact events and critical breaking information long before it’s in the news.