A resilient, secure supply chain hinges on strong data management
June 19, 202310:58 am
5 min read
The supply chain can be painfully opaque. How will you know when critical materials have left the combat support agency or manufacturer? Where are they now? When will they arrive? Too often, military planners and others in federal government may be weeks behind with the answers to these critical questions.
Typically, agencies have achieved supply chain management by brute force, “just pouring more people at it, versus being more efficient,” said Joe Damour, federal advisory director at KPMG.
Data offers a better solution for bolstering supply chain resilience. With a robust system, it’s possible to consolidate data across the supply chain from disparate sources using automated workflows that are supported by artificial intelligence. This data-driven approach is vital for securing and strengthening our supply chain, promoting resilience and proactive mitigation strategies. By analyzing the data to generate timely insights, potential vulnerabilities or sticking points can be identified in the supply chain before they can jeopardize the mission. Moreover, these insights can guide strategic decisions, enabling us to preemptively secure resources, optimize logistics, and ultimately ensure a steady, reliable supply chain.
Drive toward real-time information
The supply chain drives readiness in the military, as well as in civilian agencies such as those tasked with providing medical care. It’s crucial to know what’s on hand, what condition it’s in, what’s arriving and when.
Rather than rely on “lagging indicators,” reports that may be days or weeks old, a modernized system will deliver real-time information on the status of needed materials and supplies, said Chad Jones, federal advisory managing director at KPMG. By leveraging AI to gain a predictive edge, “agencies can identify and address potential problems early on.”
To achieve those ends, a solution needs to work across silos.
“Supply chain data, in its current form, can often be unstandardized and balkanized, even within a single agency or organization,” Damour said. This fragmentation often leads to a disconnect between those managing the flow of goods and those striving to accomplish the frontline mission. Yet, by focusing on securing and fortifying our supply chain, we can establish a more cohesive and resilient system.
To do this, agencies need to prioritize data standardization and integration across the board. By unifying this data, organizations not only streamline operations but also enhance visibility and control, essential elements for a robust, resilient supply chain. This alignment would ensure that the right information reaches the right people at the right time, reducing potential misunderstandings or delays.
Furthermore, a secure, resilient supply chain allows for quicker response times and better adaptation to sudden changes or challenges. It promotes the seamless flow of goods, thereby directly supporting those working towards the frontline mission. As such, the goal should be to build a resilient supply chain that acts as a reliable backbone, effectively bridging the gap between supply management and mission execution.”
With conventional approaches, it is hard to get a comprehensive picture — one that reaches all the way from the manufacturer to the end user at the tactical edge. Without interoperability, “it’s difficult — if not impossible — to get real-time visibility into the supply chain,” Jones said. “That readily-available information exchange doesn’t occur.”
A robust supply chain solution will address today’s interdependent environment with an agile and flexible data exchange, one that can ingest both structured and unstructured data, he said. It will access data from across the ecosystem and pull it into a unified global view.
Such a system will allow for information-sharing and situational awareness in support of data-driven decision-making at the top, Damour said, while also pushing control closer to the edge. It will give agency employees access to the details they need to meet the mission effectively — wherever they work.
All this will be supported by AI, with automated workflows that remove extensive manual labor from the process. With less effort and less manpower, leadership gets deeper and more actionable insights, Jones said. When will it get there? When is it coming back, and who will need to be on hand to maintain or refurbish it? Those are the questions a robust data solution can answer in real time.
Begin to bring data to life
Agencies can take three steps to work toward developing a data-informed supply chain capability, Jones said:
Build the skills: In shifting to a more data-driven posture, it will be important to ensure some degree of data proficiency across the workforce. “Not everyone has to be a data scientist,” he said, but every job should require a level of data fluency and the ability and willingness to look to supply chain metrics in support of improved mission effectiveness.
Lean into interoperability: Effectiveness here depends on the ability to reach across multiple heterogenous systems. In architecting a solution, it is critical to consider all the sources of information that inform the supply chain and to create the interoperability needed to generate a holistic view.
Consider the data itself: Most supply chain data is unstructured. “It’s not in a form that can be easily assimilated into a data lake,” or addressed by an analytics tool, Jones said. To speed up insights in the state of the supply chain, it will be helpful to look for solutions that can readily ingest whatever data is available, in whatever form.
Overall, the outputs need to be accessible, with easy-to-use management and reporting tools, Damour said. A modernized solution should generate reports that make sense to ordinary users — that answer their questions clearly and directly, whether at the executive level or at the tactical edge.
A solution that is “easy to operate and visually appealing” will engage more people in the conversation, he noted, thus expanding supply chain insights beyond just a handful of subject-matter experts.
With a supply chain data solution, leaders can break down silos and speed processes to drive deeper insights. They can meet the mission more effectively and take preemptive action to ensure that any snags along the way don’t disrupt critical operations.