A new silk route

For a good part of the last 2 milleniums, the silk road has been the one easy and open route connecting east and west. This may not have been the first contact between people from different parts of the world but it certainly drove trade , enabled exchange of ideas and eventually technological advancements across these regions connected via these silk roads.

As depicted in the map above “ancient Pakistan” lay right in the middle of one of the key silk roads and maritime routes.

Since its inception in China the prime driver for the creation of this transcontinental road was to support the lucrative trade of silk. The business dealings initially may have been primarily of silk as the name suggests but eventually evolved to include paper, gunpowder, fruits and livestock. Travelogues of Great explorers like Ibn e Battuta and Marco Polo inspired generations to come.

In hindsight the sharing of ideas, the fusion of cultures, the impact on the regions history were all made possible by these routes. This was a supply chain of goods and feelings. In the case of great muslim philosopher Bu Ali Sina , his work traveled through the silk road and played a crucial role in the revival of the peripatetic school in Europe.

The turning point was the Industrial revolution which literally put a halt to the silk trade with the emergence of cotton production. The innovations in new weaving technologies drove the textile productions as one of the focus areas during first industrial revolution

The impact and interplay between human and machines is ironically shown in the clip below. The human is treated as a machine, Charlie Chaplin’s character working on an assembly line in a factory is quite literally just a cog in a wheel.

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

However the advancement of technologies has propelled the fusion of digital and physical worlds, we now have a chance to rectify these wrongs, by taking the machine out of the human beings as in case of exoskeletons which combines are physical strength of a robot with judgment of a human. The disruptions which are happening around us especially in areas of machine Learning, robotics, Big Data and mobility has fast tracked newer business models.

By focussing on people, empowering them with the right tools we have seen tremendous disruption on the way buyers are now connecting with sellers. The need for transparency is much more and if the supply chain is able to deliver then the manufacturers are likely to be happier because they are able to satisfy the consumers of their products.

  • This disruption is happening in the last mile too, a customer getting groceries delivered and placed inside the fridge is another example. Walmart is offering an inhome delivery whereby the user of this sevrice is able to save time and have a peace of mind. “During Covid times the service is halted and only doorstep delivery is being offered for now understandably.”
  • A fish caught by an Indonesian fisherman , packaged and sold by Bumblebee foods to its customers on the other side of the world tells the complete story of each and every Tuna. How big the catch was, when was it captured, who the fisherman was ?

“With SAP, we have the ability to track fish the moment it’s caught and as it travels around the world, telling the story of each tuna while positively impacting ecosystems and the lives of the people all the way down the line”

Starting from innovation at Point of Sale to the use of shipping containers we have seen how the supply chains have been completely reinvented

  • KTZ is responsible for maintaining and developing 21,000 kms of railway tracks in Kazakhstan (which also lay right along the ancient silk road). They went through a transformation in their business planning and traffic routing processes , by doing that they were able to address the challenges they were facing was in handling huge volumes of cargo data, the manual processes which some time took months to complete as it involved multiple departments.
  • Imagine having virtual train of trucks on the motorway where two to three trucks are digitally tethered to reduce fuel consumption and making our roads safe. The concept is called truck Platooning , where a safe distance is maintained between the trucks and a 5% to 7.5% reduction in the fuel cost is gained.

If deployed with the right approach, modern technologies can be used as enablers for newer business models.

  • A few years ago UPS and SAP partnered to deliver an on demand manufacturing scenario using the flexibility of 3D printing. Responding to the ever increasing demand for mass customisation a product can be manufactured closest to the client before delivery. Instantaneous “Just In Time” production will become a reality in future.
  • Truckers used to spend 30% of time waiting for the load, Uber freight addressed these challenges. Adding Uber Freight to SAP’s Logistics Business Network empowering customers to further optimise their logistics.

The ability to connect with anyone in the world with decentralisation in decision making, the disruptive businesses have transitioned to a networked economy model.

Imagine an operation theatre equipped with a 3D printer where an orthopaedic surgeon can print the joint of exact size which needs to be replaced. Customers can now take informed decisions as in case of the bumblebee food example where the buyer has complete visibility of the supply chain.

One can hope that these innovations open the door for more sustainable business ideas to emerge and thrive where sustainability is not an after thought.

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Innovation Lead @ SAP ; engineer by profession ; passionate about tech, sustainability, history, cricket, football, tennis, sports, based in Islamabad

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Babar Shahbaz Ahmed

Babar Shahbaz Ahmed

Innovation Lead @ SAP ; engineer by profession ; passionate about tech, sustainability, history, cricket, football, tennis, sports, based in Islamabad

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