Ethical Supply Chain Management: Tips from the Software Engineers

Supply chains interconnect the world, moving commodities across continents, from where they are produced to the customer. Software designed for supply chain management allows us to manage the effects this distribution has on human health, environmental quality, and economic prosperity. With increased transparency and accountability along supply chains, we can begin to put continuous improvement processes in place to correct problems when performance diverges from accepted benchmarks and desired outcomes. Green River has accumulated experience in applications related to Ethical Supply Chain Management (ESCM), and we have learned a variety of lessons:

  • Define the supply chain first. Software systems must describe the supply chain in detail before the important work of supporting continuous improvements in the field can begin.

  • Integrate data from many diverse sources. This includes both data entered directly in forms as well as data loaded from a myriad of public and proprietary sources. The important point is that ample data needs to be streaming into the system continuously, or else the improvement processes will be running in the dark.

  • Emphasize data visualization. Data for continuous improvement is only useful when it’s presented in vivid, informative, and flexible visualizations. Business Intelligence tools like Tableau help create interactive dashboards, and javascript libraries like Highcharts can be used to create engaging pre-built reports for stakeholders who don’t have time to explore data.

  • Use indicators to create metrics. Metrics are variables measuring a business process, site, artifact, etc. Indicators are derived from the metrics, and are crafted using various statistical techniques to provide the intelligence that guides a decision. For example, an environmental metric might be a measure of emissions of a pollutant, whereas a sustainability indicator could be a score incorporating that pollution emissions metric, a financial metric, and a weight based on a customer survey as well. What this means for ESCM application development is the inclusion of program modules that process metrics to generate indicators, and this frequently requires a knowledge of spatial statistics, social science statistics, and other statistical techniques.

  • Handle the conditions encountered in the field. Offline capability may be crucial. Supply chains often transit parts of the world where there currently is no reliable Internet. For the foreseeable future, stakeholders may need to enter data into forms on a tablet, laptop, or mobile phone that are stored and uploaded via the Internet when a connection is available later. Transmitting data with narrow bandwidth and resuming seamlessly after loss of connectivity will remain a priority in many cases for some time to come. Freedom from device-dependency goes along with this. Since mobile use is so common in ESCM applications, make sure that the application’s user interface will work comfortably and automatically regardless of the mobile device’s operating system, and screen size and dimensions.

The above tips reflect our growing experience in the design of tools to accomplish that mission. Ethical trade, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability measurement are central to our mission of using technology to create a better world.