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Covid-19: Three key elements to improve the transparency of your supply chain [Tribune published in the JDN the 24/04]

27/04/2020

With the coronavirus crisis, many companies are facing a change in the way they distribute their product. Retail players have seen an explosion in the number of online orders, increasing their dependence on their supply chain.

With the international coronavirus crisis, retail players will inevitably have to transform to prepare for the end of the crisis and meet consumers' needs for proximity and transparency. Production chains will also have to adapt to new constraints: border closures, new regulations and even in some cases nationalization of production.

Today's supply chain is thus being disrupted and needs to be resilient. Tomorrow's supply chain will have no choice but to be transparent. How can new technologies address these issues? Here are three key elements to improve the resilience and transparency of your supply chain.

1. Graph bases as a performance lever

One of the main challenges of resilience is to maintain sufficient performance despite the increased load. The best way to address this point is to have a very good nominal performance, and one of the most important points for this is the data model that will be used. Today there are three main types of databases.

On the one hand, relational databases such as MySQL, Oracle or PostgreSQL that store data in tables, in a standardized way, and allow you to query them on the basis of more or less complex relationships. On the other hand, NoSQL databases that store data as they are very powerful for simple queries, but handle more complex queries with more difficulty, especially if they require relationships between objects. Finally, graph databases, such as Neo4J, differ from the first two typologies by storing data as an object and its relationships with other objects, which is ideal for logistics monitoring. We can then store our product, its relationships with its components, its location in the logistics chain at a given moment... And this, with optimal performance for the type of processing we will have to do: knowing the state of our product in real time, or being able to quickly identify the sources of anomalies in the production chain.

2. The cloud to address resilience and facilitate deployment

In exceptional cases such as the CoVid-19 crisis, when a significant part of production changes distribution mode, it is important to be able to quickly scale up supply chain monitoring tools. In this context, cloud services have an undeniable advantage: if the architecture is designed with this in mind, the cloud provider can address scaling automatically, based on demand, optimizing both the service according to the load, and the infrastructure costs.

For example, if a pharmaceutical company wants to redirect a large part of its supply chain to the production of an anti-virus treatment, it requires great agility to reconfigure all the tracking and monitoring tools to ensure reliable and error-free production. If these monitoring tools are hosted in the cloud, they will be able to easily absorb the new load, little by little, without having to order specific hardware, configure it and install it upstream.

Beyond the load-holding capacity, cloud platforms also allow smaller players to deploy their services anywhere in the world, depending on technical or legal requirements. But this agility can also be applied to larger players in the deployment of services dedicated to crisis response, for example. Via a cloud infrastructure, there is no need to wait for new servers or their configuration: the time to market is greatly accelerated.

In the real case of the laboratory that will manage to develop a coronavirus vaccine, it will not only be a question of guaranteeing a fast, efficient and reliable production chain. Because the international crisis we are collectively experiencing has reinforced our need for transparency. Because it will not just be a question of simple products, but of strategic public health solutions, we will need to be able to have visibility on these modes of production. The blockchain can today guarantee and respond to this need.

3. Improving data quality with the blockchain

Blockchain technologies enable the rapid deployment of services that can then be used by all, or by pre-identified actors, facilitating interoperability. Through the cryptographic mechanisms on which these technologies are based, it is notably possible to publicly demonstrate the integrity of information. All markets are today impacted by the coronavirus crisis, and consumer needs and habits are already evolving towards a different vision and approach. Whether we are talking about food, healthcare or other consumer products, the quality, manufacturing process and origin of the products will be much more important factors in our choices. Only brands that communicate transparently about how they are made and distributed will be able to stand out.

This will require quality and trustworthy logistics data, and blockchain technologies can be of great help. On the one hand, by facilitating the integration of all supply chain actors into a common tracking tool; on the other hand, by certifying the integrity of the data entered. In this way, we can not only improve the quantity and quality of data entered into the supply chain, by integrating all the players, but we can also improve the reliability of information feedback in the event of anomalies. In the same way, this data can be communicated to the consumer without the latter having to fear falsification, as proof of integrity can be provided through blockchain technologies.

The current global crisis not only changes our vision and consumer habits, but also forces companies to rethink their organizations, distribution channels and supply chains. Tracking tools are being put to the test, and will undoubtedly have to change rapidly, at the risk of seeing their future threatened. Thanks to technologies such as graphical databases, the cloud and blockchain, it is already possible to respond to new consumer needs and uses and thus prepare for the end of the crisis.

Find the JDN Tribune right here.