Coronavirus Disruption Map – real-time supplier risk event mapping

Supplier compliance

As part of our coverage of Covid-19 support from technology vendors, our chief research analyst Pierre Mitchell talked to Harald Nitschinger, Co-Founder and Managing Director of AI startup Prewave about how the firm developed its COVID-19 ‘disruption map’ to detect supply chain risk in real time. The data-driven tool that maps out the scale of COVID-19 disruption to businesses across Europe is used by some of Europe’s largest firms to alert them to coronavirus-related risks in their supply chains.

Prewave was founded in 2017 by a group of technology experts at Vienna University of Technology. In January this year they were already working with several large automotive and electronics firms in Germany and Austria that were using Prewave to monitor their global suppliers. At the same time they were starting to expand the technology’s capabilities to detect supply chain risk.

The AI- and machine learning-backed technology, which had been in development for five years at the University, has a core element that takes data from social media and news media across 50 languages to identify risk across a broad spectrum of 60 risk categories, from labour unrest to legal and financial stress like insolvencies and profit warnings.

Harald explained that the main problem faced by many of the companies was keeping track of their supply base, which can enter numbers in the tens of thousands globally. With such numbers it is difficult to know which firms are laying off staff, which are struggling to pay wages, which have suffered strikes or the effects of some form of disaster, and so on. Prewave’s customers were using the technology to help them detect this.

With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain and procurement departments, where Prewave has most of its customers, were turned upside-down. The scale and speed with which the pandemic took hold meant organisations could not rely simply on emails or phone calls from their suppliers when anything went wrong, especially far down the chain. Seeing this as an escalating problem, Prewave started to work on expanding its capability further, retrained its algorithms, and built a Covid disruption map to automatically detect risks in real time and send customers alerts about an affected supplier via a virtual map of coronavirus hotspots. It also provides updates on rates of infection within a supplier’s organisation, factory shut downs, local or regional, temporary layoffs, and so on.

With such a large volume of data to analyse, Prewave built the disruption map using NoSQL database Couchbase. Using Couchbase to store the data, Prewave could ensure the database could scale as the volume of data increased, and continue to provide real-time alerts, which was a key requirement given the volatile and unpredictable situation of the supply chain.

By the end of February this year as more countries were succumbing to the crisis, Prewave could see a bigger need for communications within the supply chain. They added the ability for suppliers to proactively update their status, for specific customers or publicly. So customers could get a combination of monitoring and real-time updates to know which firms were shut down, or starting to open up, the levels of production capacity, which were operating at full steam - all those critical questions that needed answers quickly.

The technology began as a data-as-a-service solution, and is developing according to customer need for a deep level of granularity, reliability and a qualitatively strong monitoring method of the supply chain on a global level. The key is that this is an open platform, populated with 20,000 supplier profiles, including mines, sea ports, and so on, which a user can search easily and quickly for updates. It also allows suppliers to invite and onboard their suppliers, on an opt-in basis, to get a view of the lower echelons of the supply chain, and acts as a collaborative platform, building a network of suppliers that customers can interact with.

We were interested in the big data mining capabilities, sentiment analysis, and future direction for the technology – whether it remains pure data-as-a-service or develops into a full end-to-end supply chain and supplier management platform. Once we have seen a demo and talked further with the firm, our analysts will report back with a fuller deep-dive into the technology. We do know that customer feedback has been positive, especially about the targeted and truly relevant alerts they get out of what can amount to millions of data points.

Prewave is a small and young provider, with some very clever brainpower. From what we can see so far, its disruption map is quick and easy to use – and they have made it free to use. You can access it here to search 100 suppliers and their real-time status position.

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