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Transportation and Logistics

The pandemic-proof supply chain: what we can learn from the Middle East

With the threat of a second wave of coronavirus in Europe, what can companies do to shore up their supply chains and keep goods moving? The Middle East's reliance on technology could hold the answer.

The fragility of our just-in-time supply chains was laid bare earlier this year with media reports showing empty shelves in supermarkets and delays of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) as the coronavirus pandemic rolled in.

With a second wave sweeping Europe, some supermarkets in the UK have started restricting how much customers can buy to ward off another stock crisis. But Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, doesn't believe supply chains are compromised. He told Wired: “Supply chains are stronger than ever before, and we do not anticipate any issues in the availability of food or other goods under any future lockdown. We urge consumers to be considerate of others and shop as they normally would."

Second Wave of Coronavirus 2020

With a second wave sweeping Europe, some supermarkets in the UK have started restricting how much customers can buy to ward off another stock crisis.

Over in the Middle East, the problem of balancing supply and demand was less common. The shelves have remained full, and goods have continued to flow freely. What has the Middle East been doing right?

In a report produced by the Dubai Future Foundation and Dubai Future Council, Life after COVID-19: Logistics, it was revealed that “the UAE has not seen shortages of essential goods such as food and medicine of the scale experienced by countries in other regions" because of “significant investment in multimodal facilities and infrastructure over many decades".

But it's the Middle East's innovative approach to technology that has really established it as a supply chain pioneer. In the midst of the pandemic, DP World, a global supply chain leader based in Dubai, accelerated the roll-out of a blockchain-powered digital container logistics platform to replace many of the manual, time-consuming and administrative tasks that can typically slow supply chains down and cause inaccuracies. In a time of systematic shock, such inefficiencies are not to be underestimated.

As Lisa Trujillo, HERE's lead product security engineer, says: “Establishing a more trustworthy infrastructure for transport and logistics companies is critical, and blockchain technology offers a more streamlined and immutable way to protect data sharing between multiple parties. Combined with location intelligence and tracking technologies it can enable organizations to better manage their supply chains, reduce the time to identify and fix a problem, and maintain the integrity of their products."

Supply chains are highly complex. For a large logistics company like DP World, keeping track of it all is not straightforward: last year it handled 71.2 million containers from 70,000 vessels. Blockchain and location technology enables all this data, from every ship and dock, to be viewed in real time in a more accurate and transparent way, while also replacing traditional paper-based documents.

“Modernizing the processes by which logistics operate is critical to building more robust and more efficient supply chains," said Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO of DP World. “Which will help economic development and generate more prosperity."

Blockchain and Location Technology to get end-to-end supply chain visibility

With blockchain and location technology, you get complete end-to-end visibility.

This real-time window into the supply chain at each stage of the journey can help alleviate problems such as the UK's, when in March essential medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen started to run out. With many of the raw materials for these medicines made in India and China, an issue at the start of the supply chain can cause a serious ripple at the other end. As the British consumer watchdog Which recently said: “If there's an issue with a single ingredient or batch, this can affect the whole supply chain."

However, with blockchain and location technology, you get complete end-to-end visibility. Erminio Di Paola, HERE Vice President of Industry Products, believes technology is the key to future-proofing the supply chain. He says: “It's finally possible to tackle one of the most frustrating problems for transport and logistics companies and gain access to accurate, real-time location information. How? By combining the latest location intelligence and tracking technologies with blockchain."

The latest research suggests supply chains are running more efficiently. In its mid-year study looking at supply chain disruption, the American Chamber of Commerce in South China found that 78% of the 172 companies that took part said they currently had no supply chain issues, which is a marked improvement since March when 100% of companies surveyed said they had experienced supply chain problems. But, the continuing legacy of COVID-19 and the approach of Christmas could still see the pandemic giving logistics managers a headache.

Find out how HERE's blockchain and location technology platform could help your business stay ahead during these turbulent times.

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