The source of many issues in supply chain and logistics management often can be traced to underperforming, overburdened information technology systems.
In fact, degraded I.T. system performance is just as much of a threat as cyberattacks, trade flow and climate change, which were recently cited by Resilience360 as the most serious risks to global supply chains.
Data is the key to successful supply chains. Each phase of production and distribution relies on the most up-to-date information being immediately available to those who need it.
I.T. system performance is relevant to more aspects of the complex global supply chain environment than many people realize. They include:
- Trade conflicts. With the U.S.-China trade conflict causing companies to seek locations outside of China, an optimized I.T. system supports the agility required for this supply-chain movement.
- Advanced technology. Companies that don’t adopt tools such as the Internet of Things, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence will get left behind. This is especially true in industries like manufacturing and retail, where customer expectations are high, and the breakdown of supply chains can be catastrophic. However, the success of these data-intensive tools hinges on the overall I.T. system.
I.T. system performance is dependent on its input-output (I/O) capacity, which degrades over time no matter the underlying hardware infrastructure. This is especially true in the Windows environment, where an MS-SQL database application might be operating at as little as 50 percent of its optimum I/O speed. Since about 80 percent of IT systems around the world use Windows, this is a common problem.
Global supply-chain complexity and the need for instant access to rapidly changing data make it imperative that I.T. managers constantly maximize throughput.
Supply chains running on optimized I.T. systems can make companies more competitive, leading to higher sales volume, more satisfied customers and increased profitability.
I.T. systems are increasingly overburdened because of the evolving global supply chain. While traditional supply chains monitor fixed transportation links using unchanging performance metrics, the new supply-chain environment is made up of interconnected global companies operating in a tumultuous political and economic environment.
While the interconnected ecosystem can increase speed and responsiveness, it requires up-to-the-minute information that can be accessed and shared immediately.
A March cyberattack on aluminum maker Norsk Hydro ASA nearly crippled the international supply chain for specialized technical aluminum products. Besides dealing with production issues, the company had the mammoth task of locating essential data, including customer orders and fulfillment instructions.
The transportation network involved in the supply chain is in itself incredibly complex. Some examples:
- In the U.S., Amazon, FedEx, and UPS alone are capable of putting over 900 cargo jets in the air at the same time, each controlled by individual air traffic control towers, and together handling just 5 percent of the nation’s freight.
- Another 16 percent of U.S. freight goes by rail, through a network in which 700 individual carriers, each with its own system, moves over 437 million freight carloads per month.
- Most of the rest, valued at $12.4tr per year, goes by truck, via some 777,240 different carriers, each with its own system.
Fortunately, tools exist that can maximize throughput at the system software level, which is where problems originate in the first place.
I/O performance degradation is purely a software issue. While adding hardware can temporarily mask the problem, it cannot solve it. Targeted performance-enhancement software solutions, at minimal cost and running in background, can improve total system throughput by 30 to 50 percent or more, with no additional investment in hardware.
They should be part of the toolkit of any IT manager in the supply chain and logistics field.
James D’Arezzo is CEO of Condusiv Technologies, a provider of storage performance software for virtual and physical server environments.