What is Supply Chain Mapping?

Supply chain mapping is the process of accounting for every material, every process and every shipment involved in bringing goods to market. People have been mapping supply chains as long as they’ve been making maps (see the example above, from the 19th Century). But traditional maps only provide a summary view - they can't show how complex and fast-changing supply chains really are. Accurate supply chain mapping only became possible with the rise of online maps and the social web. The first online supply chain mapping platform was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008 (the underlying open source technology is the basis for Sourcemap). From the beginning it was clear that online supply chain mapping had a number of key advantages.

Social Networking: Supply chains are so complex that it’s almost impossible for one person to trace a product all the way from raw material to finished good. Online mapping makes collaboration possible at a vast scale: teams can work together from all of the companies in a supply chain to account for every material, every process, every shipment. It’s even possible to use crowdsourcing and open the process up to the general public.

Verification: Before online mapping, it was impossible to verify an address without visiting in person. Now we can use GPS and satellite imagery to map every mine, every farm, every factory and every distribution center. User account management make it possible to know who mapped each piece of the supply chain, and when and where they did it. Instead of monitoring only the supply chain sites that can be visited in a given year, we can communicate directly with auditors and factory managers, with the meta-data needed to verify the information from afar. 

Real Time Data: Supply chain management is usually handled with in-house enterprise software, which is notoriously inflexible. The Web 2.0 was built on API's (Application Program Interfaces), meaning that any modern website can read and write from any other. Supply chain mapping with an API means that data can be synchronized from enterprise databases (for up-to-the-minute inventory, for example) AND combined with trusted third-party data, such as emergency warnings and the GPS locations of container ships on the water.

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