Sourcemap – mapping and understanding supply chains

Every so often, we get a new product, service or idea that is truly exciting – a different way of looking at an issue, or something that seems to go beyond the worthwhile but day to day procurement tasks and objectives.

I had one of those pleasant experiences recently, with a discussion and brief product demo from Leo Bonanni of Sourcemap. Sourcemap is a software platform that helps organisations map, understand and manage their wider supply chains. It also enables them to go beyond conventional communication methods and use social media, crowd-sourcing to gain greater commitment and understanding of supply chain initiatives.

But before we get into the detail, the history of the firm is interesting and worth repeating. Bonanni first developed the idea and the product as a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in their “Media Lab”, which pioneers disruptive technology and new ideas. He is a designer and inventor by background, and his initial vision was a website that physically mapped organisations' supply chains. Firms were invited to enter their own supply chain details into the Sourcemap website, which would display the results.

Suppliers or others could then add detail to the maps and expand on the supply chain knowledge - crowd sourcing, if you like. The idea was to open up firms' corporate social responsibility actions to greater scrutiny and enable firms to enlist help in increasing their own knowledge of those supply chains. A "YouTube for CSR" or as Bonanni puts it on his website, "the goal has always been the same: to understand and improve the way things are made".

Over 6000 contributors took him up on that proposition, and entered their details onto the website. But then Bonanni increasingly found firms asking him how they could use the platform internally to look at and manage better their own supply chains. They wanted to see what their own map looked like, without necessarily sharing it with everyone. Some started with a pretty good view - others had "no clue".

So Sourcemap developed an Enterprise version of the tool, allowing users to map the supply life cycle, and include energy, waste, water usage, shipping distances, even adding audit results and other supplier information to the maps.

All that can then be used to look at the geographical spread of suppliers, consider the vulnerability of the supply chain to natural disasters, and look at sustainability aspects such as “food miles” or carbon usage through the supply chain.

And although Bonanni is a US citizen, one of the first big successes was with the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board in Scotland. Mapping key supply chains led to a realisation that brewers in the north of Scotland were incurring considerable cost - and having considerable environmental impact - by shipping beer for bottling in the north of England. So the Enterprise Board helped stimulate investment in a bottling line in northern Scotland, with business and CSR benefits.

Back to the product now. Much of the information can be obtained from ERP systems, but generally some additional input is needed from procurement or the suppliers. But the beauty is the ability to really visualise your supply chain, as well as analysing issues such as inventory cycles as well as those CSR factors.

So, already I hope you're motivated to look at the website and perhaps think about whether it might have relevance for you. But it gets better - in part 2 we'll tell the story of how Mars are using the Sourcemap technology to improve people's lives in the Ivory Coast.

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