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The global supply chain is a complex interaction of myriad vendor relationships, components and finished products that traverse an increasingly challenging macroeconomic landscape.
Among the vendors trying to help organizations and governments gain actionable insights into the supply chain is New York-based Altana Technologies, which was founded in 2018. The first three years of the company’s existence was spent building a new type of federated knowledge graph data system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help organizations make sense of their global supply chains.
It’s a business that has been bolstered by rapid demand, particularly in the last year as pandemic, inflation and security concerns have put renewed strain and emphasis on global supply chain management. That has led to the company’s announcement that it raised $100 million in a series B round of funding. The new funding comes just a year after the company raised a much smaller series A round of $15 million in September 2021.
“The reason that the venture capital and the financial markets generally are freezing up is inflation, war, climate disruptions and supply chain shocks,” Evan Smith, CEO and cofounder of Altana, told VentureBeat. “Those very same things are actually propelling demand for our platform.”
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How Altana’s AI-powered supply chain platform works
Though it’s still a young company, Altana has some big-name customers on its roster already, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Boston Scientific, BMW, Maersk and Merck.
Getting to the company’s current state has taken time and technical innovation. Smith explained that the original thesis for Altana was to build a living map of the supply chain that connects and powers things around it.
“You have to somehow access and learn from all the non-public supply chain data out there,” Smith said. “You can’t just scrape the internet like Google did and put a search index on it.”
Smith explained that what his company has developed is a federated series of data and machine learning platforms, which all operate in unison to learn across siloed data. He noted that Google Maps is a good metaphor for what Altana is trying to do, providing users with a unified map or view of the supply chain.
“We’re building a map of the supply chain network using artificial intelligence to provide decision support for customers,” he said.
Where AI adds value
Smith explained that Altana uses AI for several purposes.
At a foundational level, AI helps Altana build a model of the supply chain world using the raw data that it can access across the federated network. The ability to ingest and load data from multiple sources in an array of different formats and languages is a complex task where AI can play a critical role.
Altana uses AI to provide analytics and decision support on top of its supply chain map of the world. Smith said that Altana uses multiple AI technologies, including natural language processing (NLP), graph neural networks and spatial statistics.
“[We] put everything on the map — that includes text and data that’s in Chinese, English and Spanish — and we build a clean picture of all the entities and relationships across them,” Smith said. “So we’re using a combination of AI techniques and an integrated pipeline to do what we do.”
Looking into the future
Currently, the Altana platform has a strong focus on trade, including supply chain resiliency and visibility, as well as helping organizations understand business continuity risks.
Looking forward, one area that Smith is looking to develop is a capability that exposes supply chain sustainability information.
“Because we have this living multi-tier view of supply chain networks, we’re in a very unique position to profile scope-3 greenhouse gas emissions,” Smith said.
Scope-3 greenhouse gas emissions are defined as emissions that are not directly produced by a company in its own operations, but rather are produced by its extended supply chain. Smith said what Altana would like to do is situate greenhouse gas point-source emissions on its supply chain map of the world. By placing that information on the supply chain map, it will be easier for organizations to understand their climate and ecological impact.
For example, a user could look at a business and see if it is operating sustainably. The platform could also provide visibility into the upstream supply chain for a vendor, to make sure it is making sustainable choices.
“You want to be able to look at a container of goods coming to the country and say, this is a really strong estimate of its actual greenhouse gas footprint,” he said.
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