Sharon Rice: I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Jonathan Thatcher, CSCP, to “Think Supply Chain.” Thatcher is the APICS director of research. He also writes the “Ask APICS” department for APICS magazine.
If you like supply chain maps, take a look at the website Sourcemap. This free social mapping site is capturing a growing number of supply chain maps that “tell the story behind a product or a service: map the locations of suppliers, add descriptions, photos and videos, calculate the carbon footprint, and embed or link to the map to share it with the world!” Or have you ever wanted to “mash-up” different kinds of data into a single chart and see what they looks like? What insights might appear?
Google describes “Fusion Tables” as a service for data management, integration, and collaboration. According to the Google site, “You can easily upload data sets from CSV, KML, and spreadsheets, and visualize the data using a variety of tools. Users can merge data from multiple tables and conduct detailed discussions about the data (on rows, columns, and even cells). You can easily visualize large data sets on Google Maps and embed visualizations on other web pages.”
Now consider Google Public Data Explorer, which easily produces charts and graphs from datasets of public records and performance metrics. Examples include economic performance, population demographics, and international rankings of regions, from the World Bank, the United Nations, and other national government data providers. With this tool, you can combine your own datasets and produce graphs.
Supply Chain Mapping Tools
These new applications help us visualize supply chain strategy. For example, by comparing different supply chain maps, we can see which are designed for speed or lower transportation costs.
Another possible application is to look at changes in a company’s supply chain map over time. This tells the company’s story. How did it grow? What long-term decisions and investments did it make? How complex did its supply chain become? And if you look at the supply chain maps of several companies serving in the same industry, you can start to see their separate strategies by regions, distances, similarities, and differences. Students can instantly see real-world examples of theory.
Public supply chain maps offer supply chain practitioners a number of benefits and challenges. Benefits include supporting sales and marketing when you are local to your most important customers, or when you want to emphasize investment in specific locations or nations. New audiences also can find new uses for supply chain data. For example, regional planners can see how their company-specific supply chain fits their resource and infrastructure planning. New suppliers can look for under-served locations and spot growth opportunities.
With these new innovations come new challenges. Competitors can study your supply chain map and better estimate your strengths and weaknesses in areas such as supply chain risk, supplier preferences, and potential distribution patterns. Customers may misunderstand the true scale and volume of your supply chain. In the past, supply chain professionals could only dream of easy-to-use tools to visualize and share supply chains maps. And they could not imagine the visibility and awareness these tools would create.
Combined with social media and blogs, new audiences are continually “consuming” supply chain mapping information. These new audiences include, but are not limited to, small businesses, government planners, competitors, and supply chain partners. Online supply chain maps are part of the big data revolution. Big data tools help graph and visualize complex relationships, making them more understandable.
But all this raises several questions. Can public access to supply chain maps be too much of a good thing? Do these maps potentially reveal competitive information? Is it possible access to this information will lead the public to form faulty conclusions that are difficult to correct? Or does this level of transparency benefit the customer in the end?