Our broken supply chains are proving to be a lingering problem.
The global COVID-19 outbreak certainly brought these complex networks used to ship and track goods into disarray, but it also exposed longstanding fissures. And now that most pandemic-related factory closures and misdirected ocean carriers are behind us, we’re still seeing persistent product shortages and the resulting price hikes from the grocery store to the gas pump.
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I think a lot of us expected this problem to be resolved earlier. I, like many, hoped that after a short period of instability, these knotted networks would become untangled—the traffic jams would work themselves out and the backlogs would be processed expeditiously until raw supplies and finished consumer goods were buzzing around the world again.
Instead, two years into the pandemic, we still find everything from microchips to lunch meats in short supply.
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As I’ve seen so many times while heading Oracle’s startup program, when a perplexing new problem emerges, startups often take the lead in bringing to market innovative solutions. And I’m seeing that again with the current supply chain snafus.
Several young companies participating in our Oracle for Startups 1 program are taking cutting-edge approaches to not only help global supply chains recover to where they were in 2019, but also to enhance those frail networks with the efficiencies and safeguards that position manufacturers, distributors and consumers for a post-COVID world.
One of the most exciting approaches involves blockchain, the technology popularized by cryptocurrencies but is making a far-wider impact across finance and other sectors of the economy.
These immutable and distributed ledgers store a record of every transaction affecting a given product—be it a bunch of bananas or an integrated circuit—as it progresses through a multilayered production and distribution network. From points of origin to end users, complex chains of commerce can be carefully tracked, providing a level of security, contractual trust and quality control that was once unimaginable.
Circulor has paired that blockchain technology with artificial intelligence to deliver a powerful solution for verifying raw materials are responsibly sourced, and the products made from them are properly recycled later on. The London-based startup’s Traceability-as-a-Service offering can map even the most intricate supply chains, giving consumers confidence when they buy everything from automobiles to construction materials in the integrity of the entire product lifecycle.
Another startup we’re supporting through Oracle for Startups, retraced, specializes in mapping supply chains for fashion brands. That Düsseldorf, Germany-based startup’s solution makes it possible for fashion houses to certify raw textiles and their manufacturers. Those tools aid businesses by identifying supply chain bottlenecks across geographies affected by the pandemic. They also empower conscientious consumers to shop ethically with a QR code that can be scanned to learn more about sourcing and sustainability.
Blockchain technology can even help fix supply chains by eliminating the need to ship anything at all.
Paris-based Vistory is a startup that’s solving novel issues around confidentiality and intellectual property in additive manufacturing—what most of us know as 3D printing. With the current supply chain snarls, additive manufacturing is booming as it allows parts to be “printed” on-site, removing from the equation shipping snarls, as well as the associated transportation costs and carbon footprints. But 3D printing creates unique concerns around data integrity, compliance certification and IP protection. To that end, Vistory’s flagship product, MainChain, deploys a private blockchain to instill digital trust.
While the software being developed by innovative startups will go far in restoring the healthy flow of global commerce, what’s most exciting is the potential for so many more solutions to be built with a powerful new technology that still hasn’t realized its potential. New companies, driven by creative and entrepreneurial founders, will keep experimenting with blockchain long after our supply chains have mended, and I can only imagine the benefits to all of what they come up with.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
Circulor, retraced and Vistory are all participants in Oracle for Startups.↩
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