Supply chain 2013: Stop playing whack-a-mole with security threats

As supply chain threats grow ever more sophisticated, companies tap new technologies to protect their assets and deliver the goods.

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At the same time, analyzing all the elements of an entire supply chain is "an arduous and complex task," says Goldbach. Even documenting something as simple as a fast food burger with just seven ingredients might involve as many as 20 tier-1 suppliers, and even more at the next tier down. "You have to understand where the potential is for failure and contamination."

It's not just a question within the food supply chain, either, as prevalent as that is in the news. Big-ticket items such as fashion, perfume, pharmaceuticals and wine face challenges of authenticity -- without knowing all of your suppliers, it's impossible to determine where counterfeit articles might have been introduced into the supply chain. "You'll never eliminate all your risk," says Icix's Smith. "You have to mitigate it."

Apply technology early and often

Technology can help CIOs efficiently untangle this web of risk and lack of visibility. The challenge CIOs face is applying technology -- or more commonly, multiple technologies -- to their specific industries.

Ports America, for example, utilizes optical character recognition (OCR) cameras to scan each container's equivalent of a license plate; RFID tags to match the contents with the trucks; and GPS sensors to identify equipment locations and plan movement.

CIO Johnson, who says he has increased the percentage of investments versus maintenance in his IT budget devoted to supply chain issues over the last few years, says he is exploring these technologies to improve safety as well. One example is having dock workers clip GPS sensors to their safety vests and utilizing the positioning systems to manage the locations of both people and containers, so that if there's even the remotest chance of a container being with a few yards of an unsuspecting worker, an alarm could sound or equipment could be shut down.

Beyond safety and risk-mitigation concerns, the system has the potential to cut costs and delivery times. "A majority of our operating costs relate to managing productivity in the loading and unloading of ships. If we can work with our shipping partners and their customers to better streamline the information flow, we can build a process so that shipments have the proper release and clearance, and we can unload it from the ship right onto the truck."

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