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Supply Chain Monitoring: the Value of Social Media Data in a Crisis

One needed only to visit the cleaning supplies aisle of their local retailer in the spring of 2020 to see the impacts of a global crisis on supply chains.

Every link in a global supply chain—from sourcing materials, manufacturing, transport, and end-user delivery—is highly interconnected. Staying alerted to disruptions at any stage of the chain is critical to a retailer’s timely response as crises, big and small, unfold around the world.

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Retailers have used smart technologies to monitor supply chain operations for years. However, in the context of a global crisis like a pandemic, weather catastrophe, or political instability, existing technologies can leave critical gaps in a retailer’s supply chain awareness.

walmart_-_current_situation screenIn-store situational awareness post—discovered using Echosec

Emerging Supply Chain Technologies

iStock-street city overlay digital technologyThe goal of any supply chain is to source and receive intact goods on schedule and at a minimal cost. According to a 2017 Deloitte report on supply chain technology, “most companies fail when trying to find a way to have reliable visibility over their entire supply chains while limiting the dependence on one or several stakeholders.”

Improved supply chain management software and technology are used by retailers to increase visibility and streamline this process at every supply chain link. IoT sensors and GPS tracking are becoming more common to help supply chain managers monitor in real-time for disruptions. Disruption alerts help retailers efficiently reroute shipments, plan production, costs, and inventory, and alert customers or stakeholders to delays. 

Big Data For Supply Chains

The supply chain industry is also leveraging big data to improve its processes. “Big data” includes everything from production numbers to POS and inventory data. This helps retailers better inform and predict supply and demand trends, marketing campaigns and promotions, pricing, warehouse storage, and more—and even link these data points to external factors like weather. 

Blockchain is a powerful emerging technology in supply chain management. Blockchain acts as a decentralized transaction ledger, improving companies’ supply chain awareness at every stage in a fixed, secure format.

Global Crises: Gaps in Current Supply Chain Monitoring

iStock-retail supply chain blur warehouse boxesWhile these tools operationalize supply chains when it’s “business as usual,” they can also improve retailers’ supply chain strategies in response to global crises such as pandemics, weather catastrophes, and political instability abroad. 

However, technology like IoT sensors and blockchain only offer data specific to internal processes and items, leaving gaps in broader situational awareness along supply chain environments. 

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, existing supply chain risk monitoring technologies can overlook: 

  • What is happening in and around a critical supply chain location, such as a factory on the other side of the world or a warehouse one state over
  • If there are any new cases or outbreaks in or near these locations
  • Whether these locations are likely to shut down in the coming days
  • What products are empty on the shelves at various retail locations
  • How other retailers or supply chain systems are responding to the pandemic

location update 1 screenCOVID-19 Amazon warehouse update—discovered using Echosec

This additional context heightens retailers’ supply chain awareness and response efficiency during a crisis more than relying on technologies like IoT sensors and blockchain alone. 

Social Data Delivers Real-Time Context

How and where do retailers find this context in real-time to augment existing supply chain monitoring technology?

On-the-ground data relevant to supply chain locations, including text, image, and video content, often reaches social media faster than any other source. This information keeps supply chain managers more informed in the event of a natural disaster, disease outbreak, or violent situation near a warehouse, factory, or other critical location anywhere in the world. 

Advanced data discovery platforms allow supply chain managers to aggregate and search multiple social media sources to find gaps in their situational awareness—especially during global crises. Accessing this information as quickly and easily as possible helps retailers better predict and understand unfolding events impacting their supply chains, enabling a faster and more effective response.

clothing_factory_china screen
New fabric factory delays in Guangzhou, China—discovered using Echosec

The Echosec Systems Platform
aggregates and filters data from a variety of online social networks so supply chain managers can stay alerted to relevant data in real-time. Users can narrow in on data coming from areas near their supply chain infrastructure using location-based search features.

Mapped Boeing supply chain alerts—discovered using Echosec

The Platform also offers safe and efficient deep and dark web data discovery so retailers are more aware of cyber threats affecting supply chains more indirectly—such as consumer-targeted scams.

Agartha___Item_Detail screenA how-to guide for a Fortune-500 retailer return scam on the dark web’s Agartha Market—discovered using Beacon

Post-Pandemic Advancements Needed

The coronavirus pandemic is driving a number of business operations changes, including supply chain management. Supply chain monitoring advancements will be essential for retailers even when the world recovers from COVID-19—both to improve operational efficiency and to cope with an expected increase in crises like pandemics, natural disasters, and even cyberthreats affecting supply chains. 

According to PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Report, 41% of businesses lack confidence in their ability to gather accurate data quickly enough for effective crisis response. Data discovery tools that aggregate and filter relevant social media data are crucial for filling gaps in current supply chain monitoring technology. These tools will ensure that retailers can effectively assess crisis situations and respond as quickly as possible when it matters most.

What gaps are there in your supply chain monitoring strategy?
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