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Mitigating supply chain vulnerabilities in the wake of COVID-19

Oct. 15, 2020
Edge computing is a key component to bolstering supply chain blindspots.

Stratus Technologies' Jason Andersen

As we navigate through challenging times and the impact of a global crisis, manufacturers are pressured to scale up their supply chain processes to fulfill demand for specific products. Yet we know these supply resources cannot simply “turn on a dime” to ramp up production. To prepare for the new normal, organizations must identify ways to re-engineer their supply chain processes now, in order to more immediately and dynamically respond to future demand spikes and valleys. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to rethink standard operations, many are evaluating the digital initiatives required to secure their business against future disruptions as well as gauge the success of existing digital efforts, which can help in this upcoming period of recovery. Edge computing is a fundamental Industry 4.0 technology that will play a significant role in helping organizations foster a nimbler and more-efficient operating environment (while mitigating vulnerabilities) in supply chain operations that the pandemic may have exposed.

Edge computing enhances supply chain visibility to overcome blindspots

Manufacturers are perpetually trying to overcome blindspots in their supply chains so they can better calibrate their operations and production schedules, maintain product quality and drive margin. Suppliers are working to address blindspots in demand and manufacturer production schedules so they, too, can be more efficient in production and manage their margins to be able to adjust output and distribution based on real time demand signals. Both sides want the ability to not only understand their operations, but also fully grasp the efficiency of the other organization. 

This type of collaboration throughout the supply chain is the ideal and ultimate goal. 

A critical aspect to solving the issue however is the availability and sharing of data between organizations. Edge computing creates a potential bridge to achieving this level of insight beyond an organization’s “fence line.” The pandemic has heightened the sensitivity to these blindspots, as well as the desire for this ideal state of visibility across the entire supply chain. 

To achieve this ideal, however, requires governance. Governance focuses on what data will be accessible by whom for what purpose, and who will validate the data. Governance dictates who has access to and use of the data. This is not solved by technology per se, although technology helps establish and maintain the rules. Security should factor in everything from network/hardware/software protections to permissions for accessing data per the governance established. 

Edge computing extends and scales manufacturing applications onto the shop floor to securely capture, organize, cleanse and analyze sensor and equipment data for real-time visibility. Although deep, predictive analytics still needs to be done in a data center or in the cloud, sending volumes of raw data to the cloud is not efficient or practical due to bandwidth, latencies, security and cost. Edge computing reduces the strain on networks, data centers and cloud environments, as well as the associated security and overall cost. Edge-computing platforms eliminate the risk of a single point of failure that a sensor, device or gateway might create, which would put the manufacturer and/or supplier back in the position of being blind.  

Innovation must be driven by people and technology

To meet the needs of an evolving landscape, innovation must permeate the entire supply chain process, from technology to warehousing to manufacturing and the overall customer experience. But digital-transformation initiatives need more than great technology to succeed. They also need people. Existing staff will need additional training to make the most of the investment in edge-computing platforms. New positions in areas like analytics and security may need to be created to ensure supply chains are secure yet able to adapt to changing business imperatives. Focusing on machines and algorithms first can lead to gaps in enablement and adoption. 

Future-proofing supply chains

To minimize the impacts of business disruption in the future, supply chain optimization is paramount. For this reason, digital transformation is no longer optional, it must be accelerated; edge computing is the key. 

The case for any new investment in technology must include how it enables people and processes while increasing value and integrating with existing infrastructure: 

  • Being able to meet a surge in demand

  • Pivoting from a B-to-B model to a direct-to-consumer model

  • Maintaining profits

These all can be improved through the implementation of connected devices managed (smartly) through edge computing.

Jason Andersen is vice president of strategy at Stratus Technologies