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The strongest link: deep tech and the supply chain

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The potential of deep tech lies in its ability to make genuine and practical improvements to people’s lives. Many of the start-ups born in our tech transfer hotbed are already disrupting their industries and turning possibility into reality.

 

Deep tech has been described as a technology that isn’t focused on end-user services, such as AI, blockchain, robotics, advanced material science, photonics and electronics, biotech and quantum computing. However, the role that innovation initiatives like The Collider play in bringing the benefits of tech transfer to market is increasingly shifting that perception to the past.

 

These disruptions make real, everyday differences for everybody. The importance of tech transfer in solving modern problems is already undeniable – and its positive effect on society is only going to increase. One area where deep tech’s impact is growing is the supply chain.

 

The supply chain’s importance to society has never been more apparent than during the challenging conditions presented by 2020. The potential benefits of deep tech in supply chain optimisation are being explored by businesses worldwide, but the roadmap to a fully transformed supply-chain ecosystem is complicated. The journey isn’t over yet.

 

Globalisation equals complexity

 

Our globalised world continues to shrink. Supply chains extend around the planet, and they’re both essential and too embedded in modern business practices to grind entirely to a halt. This is true even during crises like the current pandemic, with its transport limitations and lockdowns. But as the planet gets smaller, supply chains expand in breadth and complexity in inverse proportion. Components or materials for the most everyday item may come from all over the world, and each supplier or process may have different systems for invoicing, delivery, stock control and so on.

 

That complexity is not conducive to transparency. How many of us can genuinely say we know exactly what’s gone into what we’ve bought, where it comes from and who made it?

 

Unrealised potential

 

The analogue way of doing things can be fraught with problems. Though many businesses  have completely modernised their supply chain, many others still rely on paper. A paper trail has never been an entirely reliable system, even when there was no digital alternative: paper documents can be faked, duplicated, lost or destroyed.

 

Many supply chains are poorly mapped and their complexity underestimated, so some businesses don’t even realise the full extent of who, and how many agents, it involves. Paper or static digital maps of supply chain systems can do a poor job of presenting that complexity in an understandable way, and can be laborious to update to reflect changes. In times of crisis such as now, do companies relying on those older systems know how to provide solutions when the supply chain stalls or snaps?

 

Where there has been digital transformation, in some cases it’s been undertaken unevenly. The mixed model of old and new solutions running parallel is all too common. Holistic, connected digital transformation is essential to avoid info silos – partial digital transformation can be a waste of time and money at best, and potentially actively damaging at worst.

 

Another common issue in supply-chain management is a lack of agility in realignment when the unexpected happens. The most carefully planned system can still encounter a problem that hasn’t been foreseen, and time and money can be wasted searching for a reactive solution. More ‘what if?’ analysis is needed – built into the system from the start – to create the sort of flexibility that keeps a supply chain moving when something goes wrong.

 

Moreover, where digitalisation of supply chain management has happened, the potential of that data occasionally goes unleveraged. Not everybody knows what they have, or what can be done with it, when switching to digital models. Used correctly and intelligently, deep tech offers the solution for sustainable, accessible supply chain management.

 

The pathway to the future is already open

 

Deep tech is already improving supply chain planning, management and execution. The clearest impact is being made by blockchain technology, which has quickly moved beyond the finance industry where it proved its worth, providing trustworthy e-CMRs in international trade. Blockchain means everybody knows where a consignment is, exactly where it’s come from, and where it’s supposed to be going. Logistics are concentrated into a single app, used by everybody along the chain. And a digital signature can’t be forged or lost as easily as a physical version.

 

Even earlier in the process, Machine Learning is revolutionising supply chain modelling, bringing advanced analytics to complex questions like what to produce and where, market trends, warehousing strategies and transport and distribution channels. Advanced analytics makes that ‘what if?’ planning possible, building agility into the model from the start, and actually strips away unnecessary layers of technology, embedding into existing infrastructure wherever possible.

 

Accurate modelling and optimised supply chains eliminate waste, making the process more sustainable. There is no need to retain warehouse capacity at 100% if peaks and troughs in demand can be predicted accurately. Accurate analytics not only anticipate those changes but show exactly what will happen to the bottom line if, for example, production is increased at a certain facility.

 

Smart tech, too, is already making its presence felt. For example, computer vision, which deals with how computers gain high-level understanding from digital videos or images, has been revolutionising the world of deep tech.

 

The Collider start-up AllRead’s intelligent software, which uses computer vision, captures text, symbols and codes, converting them into big data and in turn into actions, optimising the process with no investment in new hardware. And in a clear indication both of the fundamental nature of supply chains to business, and that deep tech can forge its strongest links, supply-chain specific accelerator programmes are now starting to emerge.

 

 

The Collider helps realise deep technology’s potential by bridging the gap between science, corporates and entrepreneurs to bring it to market. Powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, we understand how to maximise tech transfer for start-ups and create a positive impact for society as a whole.