When Making Sense of Your Supply Chain Performance Feels like Cracking the Enigma

A Colossus Mark 2 codebreaking computer being operated by Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker (right), 1943

In World War II, Great Britain relied heavily upon interception and decoding of Nazi encrypted communications to wage successful warfare. It was out of this moment of need that the modern data science was born at an estate in England known as Bletchley Park. Unfortunately, the work was incredibly manual and required the use of purpose-built mechanical clockwork computers the size of a two-story house, and a small army of dedicated and talented people to do what we would describe today as data analysis. Overall, the code-breaking approaches developed at Bletchley Park were largely successful. However, there were times UK intelligence was unable to break the Nazi codes.

Regardless, the war ministry found ways to make use of the intercepted communiqués. One of the more successful approaches in this circumstance was a technique called traffic analysis. Essentially, they would look for the sequences of letters that were in fact encrypted words, assess the frequency of use, and attempt to identify who was the sender and intended recipient. Sometimes that information could be correlated with reports from boots on the ground, which would bring context did the traffic analysis. From that mosaic of information, inference could be made as to the nature and intent of the message

Imagine for a moment a fleet of Allied merchant ships set sail from the East coast of United States and heads towards Britain across the Atlantic. The fleet radios ahead an encoded message to the effect that they are underway. Within an hour, a U-boat spots the fleet and radios an encoded communication to Nazi HQ advising the submarine is tracking the merchant fleet. Allied forces intercept the message but are unable to decrypt it. Nazi HQ dispatches other U-boats to coordinate with the U-boat in pursuit of the merchant fleet and then with it, launch an attack.

As a result of this activity (traffic), Bletchley Park would see encoded words that match the initial intercepted message. Experts would make inference of what the communications could mean and advise the Admiralty. Top commanders would know that the timeline of traffic correlated with the sailing of the merchant fleet. Destroyers would then be sent to rendezvous and escort the merchant fleet with the warning that U-boats were believed to be shadowing the convoy. Based on the outcome of the data collection approach and techniques, Bletchley Park would modify their process by making refinements, or completely changing it if necessary. Essentially, they brute-forced their way through to make sense of the nonsense.

Although it was cutting edge at the time, signals intelligence and human intelligence have come a long way. Today, a single intelligence analyst can do the same work it took hundreds or even thousands of people back in 1942.

There are some interesting parallels between how British intelligence operated in WWII and the way businesses with supply chains run today. Nearly 80 years since then, companies are still using similar techniques to the Allies in WWII and very antiquated technology to understand and solve problems in their supply chain.

Here’s a list of challenges we regular see from companies we work with, before they adopt Open:

  1. Getting meaningful supplier metrics: do your selected metrics reflect real world supplier performance in a meaningful way?
  2. Supply chain oversight performance: How do we measure the output of oversight activities?
  3. Visibility into global supply base: do you have the ability two see systemic trends in your global supply base?
  4. Disparate systems that hinder the supply chain.

These supply chain challenges are all interconnected, and need to be addressed simultaneously to achieve a viable solution.

If your business operates in an industry where quick turnaround of an engineered solution is critical, do you measure supplier response time for request for proposal? A lot of companies don’t. When we ask why not, typical response is that before implementing Open, our clients didn’t have the ability to collect that information easily, or at all.

For those few clients we find who are able to hire enough people to collect all the relevant data and generate insightful reports, we nearly always hear one response when we ask how their reporting is working for them: we can collect the data, we can generate the reports, but by the time I get it, it’s no longer relevant. Nearly everything we do takes so much time and so many people to do it, I can’t take action because the data is weeks or even months old.

“The Women of Bletchley Park” Crown Copyright, used with kind permission, Director GCHQ

Think about it like this, during World War II, when the Allies didn’t have the methods to decrypt messages, or the messages were not timely, many people died. However, in the occasions where they did have the right encryption keys, and they had enough people and the right people to analyze the decrypted messages, literally thousands of lives were saved. Open helps you decrypt your supply chain.

Open integrates with your ERP and supplier relationship management applications, to bring supplier-related data into Open. From there, we take-over all quality planning and execution activities such as audits, non-conformances, corrective actions, supplier improvement projects, part or product inspection, and even AIAG quality planning, all within a centralized, cloud-based platform.

Some of the typical outcomes we see from implementing Open:

  • 25% time reduction when solving supplier quality related issues. That means the ability to deliver conforming products to your customers sooner and with greater confidence.
  • 30% reduction in supplier nonconformances thanks to better collaboration with your suppliers to resolve systemic issues. This results in fewer rejections of supplier delivered goods at your dock.
  • Because of our incredibly flexible reporting, Open will deliver relevant insights that can help you make informed decisions and select the right suppliers for any project.
  • We can drive change from nearly day one. Most of our clients begin to see significant improvement within 60 days of contract.

So, if trying to make sense of your supply chain performance is like cracking the Enigma, we can give you the keys to making sense of your supply chain data by bringing everything together in one unified mosaic.