Supply Chain Visualization: The Eyes Have It [Wall Street Journal]

Emerging networking and collaboration tools transform real-time data from global suppliers into vivid, multi-tier supply chain maps.

The devastating tsunami and subsequent nuclear accident that rocked Japan in 2011 brought the complexity and vulnerability of global supply chains into sharp relief. Across the globe, the automobile, electronics, chemical, and retail sectors, among many others dependent on Japanese output, were faced with unprecedented disruption of their supply chains.

At the time, few of the affected organizations had sufficient visibility into their supply chains to plan for, or respond effectively to, a disruption of this magnitude. “Global companies can have hundreds of thousands of suppliers,” says Leonardo Bonanni, Ph.D., CEO of Sourcemap, a provider of web-based supply chain visualization solutions. “Yet most cannot interact with these suppliers in real time.”

Sourcemap and other innovative startups are now offering a variety of tools that harness crowdsourcing, social media, and analytics, among other capabilities, to facilitate such interaction and help organizations map and visualize their increasingly complex global supply chains. “There are a number of players in the marketplace that are trying to do this,” says Peter Heron, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP who specializes in global supply chain transformation. “Companies have struggled to map their supply chains, particularly when they get to the second or third tiers. Any tools that can help them do this could potentially add strategic and operational value.”