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  November 5th, 2021 | Written by

Integrating Risk Management Into Supply Chains: 5 Points to Cover

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  • According to a PWC survey, 60% of supply chains pay only marginal attention to risk reduction processes.
  • Widespread supply chain issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic further illustrate the subpar state of risk management.
  • The key to preparing for unknown risks is to ensure flexibility.

Risk management is central to running any business, but it’s especially important for supply chains. Disruptions in the supply chain have far-reaching ripple effects, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made painfully evident. With logistics serving as the backbone of virtually every other operation, risks here are risks everywhere.

Supply chains must identify, document and respond to all potential dangers to maximize efficiency and resiliency. However, while many organizations are aware of this need, fewer understand how to implement proper risk management.

Why Supply Chains Need Better Risk Management

According to a PWC survey, 60% of supply chains pay only marginal attention to risk reduction processes. The study also revealed that most of these companies focus on maximizing profit, minimizing costs or maintaining service levels. Ironically, had they prioritized risk management, they’d be better equipped to meet those goals in the face of disruption.

Widespread supply chain issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic further illustrate the subpar state of risk management. Early in the outbreak, 75% of U.S. companies saw capacity disruptions from the pandemic, and many continued to face similar challenges throughout the year. The world’s supply chains were clearly unprepared to handle these risks.

Understanding the importance of risk management is the first step towards improvement. As supply chain managers start to create a risk management plan, here are five points to cover.

1. Identify and Organize Risks

Risk management in any operation begins with identifying the risks an organization faces. These can be internal, like poor user behavior leading to a data breach, or external, like a natural disaster. This may also take careful analysis, as some risks, such as changes in customer preferences, may not come to mind immediately.

Supply chain managers should break down every node and link to find risks. When recording these, it’s also crucial to determine their potential impact on the company, which is often more substantial than initially evident. For example, worker’s compensation claims can incur ongoing care expenses and disability payments on top of the original cost of care.

After compiling a list of risks and their potential impacts, supply chains should prioritize them. Weigh each hazard according to its likelihood and the size of its consequences. The most likely and most disruptive deserve the most attention in planning to prevent and mitigate them.

2. Create Response Plans for Known Risks

This organized list represents a supply chain’s known risks. These are the things that a company can predict and quantify, and as such, managers can create a response plan for them. Businesses may not be able to create a detailed plan for every item, but they should for at least the most threatening eventualities.

Some hazards don’t require extensive planning and preparation. For example, if a truck battery dies, drivers can start it without jumper cables if need be to take it to a repair shop. Even though the solution here is fairly straightforward, businesses should still write down what to do to ensure quick responses.

Other events need a more detailed and lengthy response plan. A supply shortage from an overseas supplier, for example, may require backup sources, a transition plan and steps to mitigate customer reactions. Creating these plans can take tremendous effort, but emergency responses will be slow and ineffective without them.

3. Ensure Flexibility for Unknown Risks

Of course, supply chain managers can’t predict every possible eventuality. In fact, unknown risks like the COVID-19 pandemic can be the most disruptive because businesses don’t have a specific action plan for them. While supply chains can’t predict the details of these events, they can prepare for them.

The key to preparing for unknown risks is to ensure flexibility. When a supply chain can’t predict a disruption, it must be able to adapt to it in the moment. If the chain is flexible by design, it can adapt more easily, minimizing the effects of unforeseen events.

Segment, stock and plan (SSP) strategies can reduce part shortages by 50 to 90%, helping supply chains become more flexible. Supply chains should also consider distributed sourcing, which mitigates the impact of a disruption in one location. Creating more transparency through internet of things (IoT) technology and data analytics will also help.

4. Build a Risk-Aware Culture

One easily overlookable point of supply chain risk management is cultivating a risk-aware culture. Supply chain managers can’t expect to discover every potential disruption on their own, much less fully understand their impact. Employees throughout the supply chain may have a more personal understanding of these things, making them indispensable assets.

Just as effective cybersecurity involves all employees, so does the rest of risk management. All workers should be able to report risks they notice, requiring easy and open communication tools. Similarly, management must be open to change and ensure employees that bad news is a welcome alert, not something to punish.

Some supply chains may even consider rewarding employees whose insights lead to meaningful risk management improvements. When everyone can report and discuss potential hazards, supply chains can get a more comprehensive picture of their risk environment. This communication will also improve flexibility for unknown risks.

5. Monitor and Review Risks

Finally, supply chains must understand that risk management is an ongoing process. Some experts claim that constant monitoring is the best way to strengthen the supply chain, as it enables quick, effective responses. The first step here is expanding visibility through data collection and reporting.

Regular reports from all supply chain nodes provide an updated picture of a supply chain’s risk environment. Similarly, IoT tracking and data analytics can enable real-time visibility across an organization and help predict incoming changes. When relying on data analytics, supply chains must ensure they’re gathering extensive, high-quality data, as poor or insufficient datasets can be misleading.

Monitoring this data to predict incoming disruptions is only part of the ongoing risk management process. Supply chains must also periodically review their risk management framework as their situation changes. What’s most threatening today may not be tomorrow, so these plans should evolve over time.

Risk Management Is Crucial for Supply Chains Today

The sheer size and complexity of supply chains today make risk management essential. Disruptions can come from anywhere and have far-reaching consequences if these organizations don’t prepare to counteract them.

As supply chain managers tackle their risk management framework, they must be sure to cover these five points. If not, they could fall short when an emergency arises. By contrast, following these steps can help them ensure ongoing efficiency and minimal disruption in the face of adversity.