When in Rome

Spartacus, Stanley Kubrick 1960

There are four kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, statistics and Hollywood movies about ancient Rome. Most American movies about Rome, including Stanley Kubrick‘s famous “Spartacus” from 1960, usually smear the Roman Empire while celebrating its enemies one way or another.

Indeed, the Spartacus uprising was initially successful, causing the Romans quite an embarrassment. However, a combination of Roman military power and too much diversity in the rebel ranks eventually brought it to a crushing defeat.

One of the most significant scenes in Kubrick’s Spartacus was the final battle, starting from a stern-looking Kirk Douglas and his ragtag friends observing Roman formations advancing towards them with almost supernatural precision.

A Roman legionnaire marching in these formations was well-equipped, thoroughly trained and extremely motivated. National defense was a perpetual concern, and Roman government worked hard to support its widely distributed military in the most efficient and timely manner. A legionnaire deployed to the Danube frontier would carry a sword, a shield and armor each made in a different city in northern Italy, while eating bread grown in North Africa.

As it often happens, at some point these Roman strengths became liabilities. While professional Roman soldiers were supported by a sophisticated supply chain, there were relatively few of them because of the associated financial expenditures: equipment, food, salaries and yes, extensive veteran-focused programs such as pensions, medical care and death benefits. During the late Rome period, the remaining population of the empire was both spiritually and practically demilitarized, and production was geographically compartmentalized. In comparison, as Germanic tribes invaded the Roman Empire, virtually all their men were sufficiently good soldiers with good enough weapons they produced themselves.

In the end, the Roman system became too extended and fragile to defend against multitude of its challenges, and then it snapped… – and was no more. For example, the invasion of North Africa by the Vandals cut the Western Roman heartland from its key source of staples.

For what it’s worth, we are living in very similar times. Globalization favors over-specialization; it demands safe trade routes, whose protection by the omnipresent US Navy is presently being taken for granted. No country is self-sufficient anymore, and therefore all countries are vulnerable to major disruptions in the flow of technologies, materials and food.

These disruptions can be weaponized. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already threatened a European energy crisis, a famine in Africa, and a shortage of a number of raw materials all over the world. Yet, this pales in comparison to what will happen if China ever invades Taiwan: the inevitable embargoes, blockades and counter-blockades will decimate supply chains across the globe on a previously unimaginable scale.

Worse, US’s near-shoring of production to Mexico is under growing threat from drug cartels. As for complete on-shoring, historically stable and predictable relationships between OEMs, suppliers and even software vendors in the US are not that certain either, as they can be suddenly disrupted nowadays by diverging views on bathroom use policies.

A company’s readiness to mitigate, anticipate and even preempt such changes is no longer a theoretical debate. It is a matter of life and death.

Companies already search for similar parts based on their surface geometry, for example before creating a new part number. Their internal systems are often able to scan supplier catalogues for parts similar to their designs. There are vendors who specialize in providing clients with supply-chain intelligence.

However, all this needs to be brought to a new level: a kind of DevSecOps for the design and manufacturing base. Corporations are already used to continuously and recursively scanning their source code for security vulnerabilities, known bugs and opens-source license violations. The same way, a company’s entire design base and software infrastructure must be continuously scanned for all possible variations of supply chain risks. This will involve a lot of data, many new processes and good old brainstorming, probably along the following lines:

  • Implementation of advanced CAD/PLM search and analytics technologies, perhaps integrated with generative AI;
  • Analyzing cascading supply chain issues involving entire companies, materials and tooling;
  • Monitoring OPSINT related to regional and international conflicts and supply chains, and creating redundancies to avoid disruptions;
  • Controlling the IP and ensuring all data can be extracted and archived in an industry standard format from whatever platform of choice is being used;
  • Prioritize cloud-agnostic software architecture.

Unfortunately, it is too late to save the Roman Empire. However, the Senticore team can contribute to the survival of the modern West. Ask Senticore to help your company brainstorm and implement robustness and continuity solutions in the engineering domain, data longevity, industry standards, integrations, and other related areas.