USC Marshall 6th Annual Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit Addresses “Transparency”

“No amount of technology is going to help move cargo off the docks without collaboration.”

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An exhaustive discussion on the benefits and perils of digitized supply chains took place at the USC Marshall 6th Annual Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit in Los Angeles. But if a single conclusion surfaced after the premier Pacific Rim event, it was this: end-to-end transparency can be too much of a good thing if it undermines trust.

As he did last year, IBM's Rob Allan gave a keynote address describing how his role as leader of Watson Supply Chain analytics has evolved with demands placed on today's global logistics managers.

“Risk readiness is a constantly changing dynamic,” he said. “And that's why we see more and more managers taking a chance on artificial intelligence (AI). The fact that Watson prevailed in a match of wits with ‘Jeopardy' a few years ago certainly had something to do with it.”

The question-answering computer system has since been embraced by managers for risk mitigation, Allan maintained, noting that Watson can utilize its predictive analytics for both weather and traffic congestion forecasting. This helps managers avoid jeopardizing their own operations domestically and overseas.

Walmart is among several other major companies comprising IBM's recent initiative dubbed “Food Trust Blockchain,” which Allan said will identify threats to shippers and consumers of contaminated grocery goods.

“We are also working with the Master Lock Company – the largest global manufacturer and marketer of padlocks and personal safes – to penetrate new markets and work with new partners each with their own specific local requirements,” he said.

Finally, Allan summed up IBM's “historic” alliance with Lenovo designed to bring long-term value to companies needing to continually reinvent themselves.

“Lenovo is now the preferred provider of IBM-branded personal computers, and we will continue finance and maintain services for those PC solutions in a fully transparent manner,” he concluded.

A subsequent panel discussion on “Digital Transparency in Logistics” may have been meant to reinforce some of these rosy predictions, but a fair amount of sobering skepticism was also evident. Allen Clifford, Executive Vice President Commercial, for the Mediterranean Shipping Company also shared an insight from the floor, observing that without trust, efficiency will always be evasive.

“Just knowing where your goods are in the supply chain at every moment does not necessarily help shippers or the carrier,” he said. “They have to have faith in each other and understand that cargo will always be delivered as promised. No amount of added transparency is going to change that.”

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson

Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor specializing in international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He is based in San Francisco, where he provides a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. He may be reached at his downtown office: [email protected].

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