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Hey, Elon Musk! We can improve your supply chain risk monitoring

By Richard Potter on 28/11/17 10:05
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Richard Potter

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Elon Musk is quite an individual. The guy is revolutionising electric cars, energy storage and solar power with Tesla, space transportation with SpaceX and tunnelling speed with The Boring Company. So, when you’re struggling to whip your suppliers into shape, remember these eloquent words from the tech visionary: “The supply chain stuff is really tricky.”

Musk was talking at last year’s Code Conference about the difficulties of getting the Tesla Model 3 to market on time. Among the things he listed as having happened to Tesla’s suppliers and impacted its timeline were a factory burning down, an earthquake, a tsunami, massive hail, a tornado, a ship having sunk and, believe it or not, “a shoot-out at the Mexican border.”

“No kidding,” he assured. “That delayed trunk carpet at one point. And the Border Patrol wouldn't give us the truck because it had bullet holes in it. We just wanted our trunk carpet, it's pretty safe. There's no cocaine or anything, it's good. But that shut down the production line, as an example, for several days. That's the biggest issue, the supply chain stuff is really tricky.”

You may never have had to deal with earthquakes, tsunamis or shoot-outs affecting your supply chain, but it’s entirely likely you’ve been left hanging by the misfortune or incompetence of a supplier. What Musk’s explanation does is illustrate perfectly something that there is no getting away from: risk is inherent to the supply chain and is completely and utterly out of your control.

Fortunately, how you manage the risk in your supply chain is within your control. That can include savvy choice of suppliers, how you react when issues crop up and, crucially, how well you can monitor your supply chain for potential issues. After all, the sooner you know about problems, the sooner you can take contingency action.

There have traditionally been a variety of supply chain risk monitoring techniques, such as by using specialist companies, software or simply your own collection of tools, like news alerts and currency tracking. The problem is, these approaches give results that are rarely as current as they need to be and that rarely offer a complete picture. The proliferation on online data, however, means that these pitfalls have become less of an issue.

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Of course, we would say that, given that we offer a data-driven supply chain monitoring service, but let us explain how it works and why it’s so true. Sources like social media, currency markets and geographical monitoring are as real-time as it gets (with the exception of actual real life). By tracking such sources for key terms, we can identify relevant, significant insights that can be acted upon.

To do this, we create a semantic dictionary customised to your business, containing things like supplier names, geographical locations and procurement categories. In this way, we’re able to flag up risks and disruptions as soon as they occur. Indeed, our data machine spotted a planned strike on an obscure online forum some 45 days before it took place, saving our client a lot of trouble and a lot of money. (This shows that it’s not always volume of data that matters, but finding that one piece of crucial data).

In a similar way, we could have flagged up the earthquakes, tsunamis and hail that have caused such strife for Elon, giving him a chance to find solutions and steal a march on the competition. As for shoot-outs on the Mexican border, that rather depends on whether those involved tagged their location on Twitter beforehand…

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