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Digitizing the Supply Chain
But the consensus among experts is that long-term solutions include bringing more technology to the supply chain. “This will accelerate the digitization of the supply chain,” said Stein. “There is a far greater appreciation of the speed the supply chain has been impacted and the need to respond in the moment.”
Artificial intelligence is increasingly playing a role in managing the supply chain, says Stein. One complaint is that AI systems depend on established patterns and can’t handle extraordinary circumstances like the coronavirus crisis. Stein says building traceability into these systems allows humans to see how the AI is making decisions and thus modify the outcome.
To enable companies to more clearly understand how they are sourcing products, several new start-ups are offering to map out a client’s supply chain so that managers are alerted about risks and possible disruptions. The start-ups include Elementum, Llamasoft and Resilinc. All provide software applications that track steps in a supply chain, flag disruptions, analyze alternative sources and measure the impact of delays.
While dependence on China triggered the soul-searching about dependence, the discussion soon broadened to other sources in Asia and Europe, said Phil Levy, chief economist for Flexport, a freight forwarding star-tup focused on ocean and air transport. “The question became a lot more subtle and led to some discussion that maybe the global supply chain is a bad idea.”