Supply Chain Security Poses Opportunities, Obstacles

By Jacqueline Emigh  |  Posted 2005-09-23

Supply Chain Security Poses Opportunities, Obstacles

With hurricanes and transit bombings top-of-mind, vendors at this weeks Maritime Security Conference talked up supply chain security technologies, while customers pointed to implementation hurdles that include costs, complexities, and the still emerging status of industry standards and regulations.

As Hurricane Rita geared up to strike the Texas shoreline, speakers at the show in New York peppered their presentations with remarks around the urgent need to develop supply chain and other IT systems capable of dealing with all types of natural and manmade disasters.

On the one hand, the success of video surveillance cameras in catching four of the London subway bombers represents a great recent example of how technology can help, according to several attendees.

IBMs Intelligent Trade Lane provides security and supply chain efficiencies to customers shipping products beyond national borders. Click here to read more.

But needs for new technologies remain rampant, and some customers expressed very specific requirements. At the close of one session, for instance, Harold W. Neil Jr., director of transportation for the state of New Jersey, said that sensor technologies available today still arent adequate for sniffing out the sorts of stuff that might show up in biochemical terrorist attacks.

By and large, corporate customers want supply chain security technology that will let them comply with government requests for information sharing, while at the same time protecting product data from their competitors, said Thomas Wilson, managing director of Global Trade Management for systems integrator BearingPoint.

"[Some companies believe that] this data is sensitive [if it lands] in the wrong hands, and that it shouldnt become part of the public domain," according to Wilson.

But at the same time, growing numbers of corporations are working with each other and government agencies to create a single "truly end-to-end solution" for port and supply chain security, said Sandra Scott, director of international relations for logistics specialist Yellow Roadway Corp.

"One goal [for corporations] would be to get their shipments expedited [through customs agencies]," according to Scott. "Companies also want to be able to provide their data in any format."

Terrorism fears spawn a new global standard for cargo security. Click here to read more.

As one effort along these lines, Scott cited ADTA (Advanced Trade Data Initiative), a program launched by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Also at the show, Jerry Cook, vice president for government and trade relations at Sara Lee Branded Apparel, said he sees an opportunity for the IT community to create an "integrated system for understanding risk [and] threat."

Next Page: Future security requirements.

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Daniel Collins, a government solutions executive at IBM, detailed some of the complexities associated with creating workable solutions.

"What do the London subway bombing and Hurricane Katrina tell us about future security requirements?" he asked. Although "a natural disaster is not the same thing" as a manmade disaster, natural disasters "give us some opportunities to observe mechanisms [present in manmade disasters]," Collins said in a presentation.

The mechanics of supply chain security combine physical security and logical (or computer) security elements with a process orientation, for making decisions about what actions to take, according to the IBM executive.

In its research labs, he said, IBM is exploring new technologies in areas such as risk management and decision support to assist customers in preparing for and coping with disasters.

Although its important to practice the use of technology in non-disaster settings, "practice" implementations may turn out differently than actual deployments "out in the wild."

Supply chain security technology also faces challenges in the areas of cost concerns, resistance to change and lack of awareness—particularly in some countries outside the United States—that it can do more than just "stop pilferage and theft," according to Collins.

The National Cargo Security Council helps supply chain security pros explore new technologies for fighting terrorism and theft. Click here to read more.

But, he said, all companies need to step up to the responsibility of supply chain security, whether theyre involved at the front or back end of the supply chain.

Some technologies and other initiatives discussed at the conference tried to answer complexity by meeting the increasing convergence between public safety and supply chain concerns.

For example, Homeland Integrated Security Systems demod Cyber Tracker, a portable detection device designed for real-time tracking of people as well as vehicles and other movable objects.

In other show news, Hewlett-Packard Co. and BearingPoint showcased their mutually developed Maritime Port Integrated Management and Security Solution.

L-3 Communications Security & Detection Systems announced the delivery of cargo X-ray screening systems to customs agencies in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

Ironically, the ongoing threat of disaster these days came to life dramatically near the end of the Maritime Security Conference on Wednesday.

Vividly cognizant of the devastation wrought by Katrina earlier this month, exhibitors from Texas and surrounding areas rushed to the airport to go back home and secure their personal belongings before Rita could get there first.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news and analysis of enterprise supply chains.

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