“Fifty years ago, the average grocery store stocked about 200 items, of which 70 percent were grown, produced or processed within 100 miles of where they were eventually purchased. Today, the average supermarket stocks close to 39,000 food items. By some estimates, the food Americans eat has traveled, on average, 1,500 miles before it is consumed.” (Source: globalization101.org)
Supply chains are ever changing global networks. At the end of 2015, the celery e Coli outbreak in the US impacted over 150,000 products. It showed up in chicken salad. It showed up in pre-made turkey sandwiches. No one knew the extent of the issue. What was the source? What if it happens again?
We think supply chain transparency and risk management is a big problem worth solving. We initially tried to solve this problem doing what traditional enterprise software companies do – using an SQL database. We realized that the volume and structure of information would have a major impact on performance and we could never achieve the analytics we wanted. It may work to map one company and its 1000 immediate suppliers – but never for an entire network of potentially millions of companies all interconnected.
We turned to graph databases which excel at mapping complex networks and providing quick analysis. We are excited to bring to market our solution on this technology and it’s been fascinating to watch as graph databases become more common – and used in exciting ways. Take for example, the Panama Papers. The team of journalists that cracked open the Panama Papers leverage the same database technology we use, provided by our partner, Neo4j. The sheer volume of information processed is amazing. According to Neo4j, the Panama Papers represented 2.6 Terabytes and 11.5 million documents. Imagine connecting the dots across that amount of information, none of which is nicely structured. Most interestingly, journalists conducted this effort not teams of data scientists.
If we are going to crack the code on supply chain transparency – having technology behind us that is powerful and easy to use just makes sense.