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Creating a More Agile Supply Chain Can Help Organizations Remain Afloat During Disruptions 

global trade supply chain

Creating a More Agile Supply Chain Can Help Organizations Remain Afloat During Disruptions 

Research from the McKinsey Global Institute found that industries across the country experience supply chain disruptions lasting at least one month approximately every 3.7 years. Unfortunately, shorter disruptions are reported far more frequently. Several factors, most of which are unpredictable, contribute to the frequency and longevity of these disruptions impacting the global supply chain.  

Read also: Here’s What It Takes to Be Agile During Global Supply Chain Disruptions

Factors That Contribute to Disruptions 

Flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters can significantly impact supply chain processes. Unfortunately, the frequency and severity of these weather events have increased, leading to more frequent disruptions

Geopolitical tensions, tariffs, and trade disputes are also known to cause major disruptions in the supply chain. Geopolitical conflicts can result in higher costs for trading goods across borders. Additionally, economic downturns and market fluctuations can negatively affect supply and demand, causing disruptions at every level of the supply chain. 

 Quality issues, problems with supplies, and other supply-related risks can cause severe disruptions in supply chain processes, especially when organizations are highly dependent on critical suppliers. Regulatory changes also negatively impact the supply chain; changes in regulatory requirements can slow down supply chain processes as companies adjust their operations to comply with new standards and laws. 

More companies than ever before rely on technology for various aspects of their supply chain processes. Unfortunately, disruptions can occur due to malfunctions and system failures. Additionally, logistical challenges, accidents, and infrastructure issues frequently cause delays and disruptions in supply chain operations 

Problems with Frequent Disruptions 

Reports from the Richmond Federal Reserve show that around 55% of firms experienced lost or delayed sales due to supply chain disruptions. This accounted for approximately 5% of their entire sales revenue in 2021. Smaller companies reported an average reduction of around 7%, while larger firms saw around a 4% reduction for the year. To avoid these issues, it is imperative that companies build resilience and agility into their operations to help mitigate the impact of such disruptions. 

Why It Is Important to Act Now 

Moving forward in a post-pandemic era, companies across the globe must improve their supply chains to remain agile. Ensuring resiliency can help companies better manage disruptions, enabling them to continue their business processes despite short- and long-term delays. 

Additionally, evolving consumer expectations have led individuals and organizations alike to expect faster and more reliable deliveries. Optimizing supply chain operations can lead to significant cost savings, which is vital during uncertain economic times. 

Steps to Take to Prevent Disruptions and Address Challenges 

The following are strategies that can effectively help companies address supply chain disruptions and challenges:

1. Implement advanced analytics and AI systems: Real-time monitoring systems can help companies proactively identify and respond to disruptions by flagging issues early. Utilizing advanced analytics and AI systems ensures timely detection and effective mitigation of potential disruptions.

2.Align business goals with supply chain goals: Aligning business goals with supply chain goals through technology and automation helps reduce manual errors, optimize operations, and enhance data-driven decision-making. This alignment results in a more effective and efficient supply chain, capable of meeting the demands of a dynamic market environment.

3.Sense market demand: Harness data from systems like ERP and POS to forecast future demand patterns. This approach enables companies to conduct demand-variability analysis for accurate buffer estimation, minimize stockouts, reduce inventory levels, and increase inventory turns.

4. Supplier risk management and diversification: Diversification can help mitigate risks commonly associated with relying on fewer suppliers, ensuring a more robust and resilient supply chain. Prioritizing suppliers who deliver on-time and in-full at reliable rates allow companies to adjust ideal recommended stock levels for each location based on seasonal and cyclical trends. Additionally, tracking service levels based on supply and demand predictability enhances the ability to manage inventory efficiently

5. Collaborative planning: With the growing awareness of flaws in traditional, siloed planning and decision-making, businesses must transition to intelligently optimized operations that transcend today’s business complexity. Time, effort, and budgets are finite resources, demanding rapid trade-offs and compromises as organizations reimagine their operations to drive profitability while ensuring stability and continued growth. Collaborating with customers and suppliers can help align goals and expectations from beginning to end, ensuring everyone remains on the same page. Optimizing the product and customer mix based on profit margins can generate free cash flow, further enhancing operational efficiency and financial stability. 

6. Lead sustainability with better margins and higher profits: Adopting and implementing sustainable processes can help reduce waste, optimize transportation, and create a more eco-friendly and resilient supply chain. These processes enhance near-term on-time, in-full (OTIF) potential and optimize product mix to maximize profit margins, focusing on top-performing products. By integrating sustainability into supply chain operations, companies can achieve both environmental and financial benefits. 

It is imperative to leverage technology, invest in continuous improvements, and take a proactive and collaborative approach toward establishing a more agile and resilient supply chain. Enhanced agility can help improve customer satisfaction and operational efficiency while ensuring organizations are in a strong position to navigate the uncertainties ahead

 Author Bio

Anita Raj is a seasoned technology thought leader and product marketing expert for building impactful go-to-market strategies for targeted markets such as Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. As the vice president of product marketing at ThroughPut Inc., Anita is responsible for the vision, strategy, and execution of go-to-market and product marketing initiatives, including value proposition, product launches, customer marketing, and product life cycle marketing. 

 

supply chain disruption route optimization global trade

Revolutionizing Supply Chain Risk Management with Real-Time Disruption Alerts

John Galt Solutions, a global leader in automating supply chain planning, has announced a strategic partnership with Resilinc, the premier company in supply chain mapping, disruption sensing, and resiliency analytics. This collaboration promises to provide unmatched visibility and comprehension of supply chain risks by merging Resilinc’s advanced data and monitoring capabilities with John Galt Solutions’ AI-driven supply chain planning technology.

Read also: Resilinc Releases List of Top Supply Chain Disruptions and Industries Impacted for the First Half of 2023

While supply chain disruptions are unavoidable, businesses that utilize sophisticated supply chain performance tools to detect, plan, and respond swiftly will outperform competitors by maintaining higher service levels and managing costs effectively. The integration of Resilinc’s flagship early-warning system, EventWatchAI, into John Galt Solutions’ Atlas Planning Platform offers revolutionary visibility with real-time alerts and monitoring for a broad spectrum of disruptive events that can impact supply chain operations, including logistics and financial risks, extreme weather, export restrictions, and sustainability concerns.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Resilinc and offer organizations a more complete end-to-end view of their supply chains to effectively keep risk at bay,” said Alex Pradhan, Global Product Strategy Leader at John Galt Solutions. “Together, we equip Atlas Planning Platform customers with the latest in supply chain planning technology and AI to proactively detect and assess risk, collaborate to mitigate disruption, and gain actionable intelligence to ensure business continuity and success.”

Resilinc’s EventWatchAI platform monitors over 104 million news sources and sites for potential disruptions globally, ensuring real-time awareness of critical events that could impact the supply chain. John Galt Solutions’ Atlas Planning Platform connects the end-to-end supply chain, empowering companies to make swift and informed decisions.

“The average supply chain experiences 300 disruptions per week. Being alerted in real-time about a labor violation, factory fire, or earthquake in a specific location gives organizations visibility into a potential disruption and time to determine how to mitigate it,” said Resilinc Chief Revenue Officer, Fred Brown.

This partnership enables businesses to unlock critical insights and make informed decisions through advanced supply chain risk management across various scenarios. For instance, companies can assess vulnerabilities by identifying high-risk suppliers, geographies, or transportation lanes that could affect their entire supply plan. They can also swiftly respond to actual disruptions by understanding the event, its impact, and duration, predicting revenue changes, identifying affected parts, and determining suppliers and categories most at risk. By leveraging these capabilities, businesses can proactively mitigate disruptions, minimize losses, and ensure business continuity.

“Combining our real-time monitoring capabilities with John Galt Solutions’ leading supply chain planning software, organizations can enhance their resilience, optimize their supply chain operations, and drive greater value across their businesses,” continued Fred Brown.

global trade supply chain

St. Louis Region Poised to Thrive Amid Global Supply Chain Disruptions

Ongoing conflicts in the Red Sea, low water levels in the Panama Canal, and other geopolitical incidents have led to unprecedented challenges for the global supply chain, according to Panos Kouvelis. Addressing these issues during a virtual panel session at FreightWeekSTL 2024, Kouvelis, the Emerson Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain, Operations and Technology at Washington University’s Olin Business School and Director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation, discussed how these disruptions create opportunities for the St. Louis region. He emphasized the importance of building resilient supply chains, diversifying sources, and strategically positioning the region for the future, given its role as a global freight hub.

Read also: St. Louis Regional Freightway Unveils $8 Billion Priority Projects List for 2025

Kouvelis highlighted that the current and future supply chain risks differ significantly from those faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic’s impact stemmed from changes in consumer behavior and supply shortages, today’s risks are more complex, encompassing environmental, geopolitical, and social responsibility issues. Tensions between the United States and China, particularly given the heavy dependence on Chinese supply chains, further complicate these challenges.

Conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war have disrupted critical trade routes, affecting companies in the St. Louis region, such as Bunge, Bayer, Emerson, Belden, and Millipore Sigma. Kouvelis stressed the need for the U.S. to develop resilient supply chains and consider new types of risks.

Kouvelis pointed out that America’s dependence on China for critical supply chains, including renewable energy, solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, pharmaceuticals, and electronics, necessitates a strategy for de-risking and decoupling. This could involve creating regional supply chains and diversifying suppliers in Central America, Mexico, or South America.

The semiconductor industry presents a significant opportunity for the U.S., given its leadership in knowledge and design. Kouvelis suggested investing in U.S. manufacturing capacity and collaborating with allied countries to maintain control over critical technologies. Similar strategies could apply to biosciences, agribusiness, and pharmaceuticals.

For the St. Louis region, recognized as a global freight hub, the current supply chain disruptions present unique opportunities. The region boasts the most efficient inland port in the nation, significant infrastructure investments, and flexible logistics capabilities. Kouvelis emphasized the importance of continued local investment and workforce development to attract re-shored manufacturing.

Mary Lamie, Executive Vice President of Multimodal Enterprises for Bi-State Development, which operates the St. Louis Regional Freightway, echoed Kouvelis’s insights. She noted that while supply chain disruptions pose challenges, they also offer opportunities for the St. Louis region to improve shipping alternatives and attract future investments.

FreightWeekSTL 2024 continues through May 17, offering additional virtual panel sessions with industry experts. For more information or to register, visit FreightWeekSTL.com.

supply chain

REVEALED: How Disruptions in The Supply Chain Affects the Infrastructure Industry

Supply chains across industries are a focal point for the success of processes and operations. Disruptions can have huge consequences not just for individual businesses but the entire industry. This is why it’s important to strengthen resilience within each step of the chain so it’s appropriately prepared for anything from industrial action to huge geopolitical events.

Read also: Red Sea Global Trade Disruptions: How to Overcome the Chaos

Chris Thompson, Operations Director at Electrix International, a global supplier of stainless steel electrical enclosures, has offered some expert insight into the supply chain issues facing the infrastructure industry, including the impacts it has and posing some potential solutions.

The immediate effects on infrastructure projects

With infrastructure projects lasting years or even decades, there are plenty of concerns about the effects of supply chains on them. Project delays are a huge concern, with the lack of available materials being a direct contributor. Crews’ workflows are disrupted while waiting for components and materials, which also means completion dates and schedules are hugely affected.

This can have a ripple effect on the project’s cost. When materials become scarce, their prices inevitably rise. Contractors are forced to absorb these inflated costs or pass them on to public agencies, potentially derailing entire projects due to budgetary constraints.

This volatility can leave infrastructure projects in limbo and uncertainty. Because of the lack of predictability, timelines and budgets cannot be planned. For example, the construction of new roads and bridges, vital for easing traffic congestion and improving connectivity, has been hampered by shortages of asphalt, concrete, and steel. Delays in obtaining permits and regulatory approvals, exacerbated by the pandemic, have further stalled progress on these projects.

Long-term effects on the industry

Beyond the immediate challenges, supply chain disruptions also raise concerns about the long-term health of the infrastructure industry. The shortage of skilled professionals is a well-documented issue. Supply chain disruptions exacerbate this problem by creating periods of inactivity and uncertainty. People may be hesitant to enter a field where projects are constantly at risk of stalling due to material shortages.

There has also been a significant stagnation in innovation. Infrastructure development often relies on the adoption of new technologies and materials. However, supply chain disruptions can stifle innovation by making it difficult for contractors to experiment with novel materials due to concerns about availability and cost.

Strengthening for the future

Addressing the challenges posed by supply chain disruptions requires a multi-pronged approach. There are some potential solutions, with one fundamental change being to utilize domestic manufacturing. Encouraging domestic manufacturing of critical infrastructure materials can lessen reliance on global supply chains and mitigate the impact of disruptions abroad. Investments in local production facilities and incentives for manufacturers can strengthen the domestic supply chain.

Diversifying suppliers for infrastructure projects can also be a massive solution for preventing supply chain disruptions. Businesses shouldn’t rely on a single source for critical materials. By diversifying their supplier base and building relationships with local and regional manufacturers, contractors can create redundancy and avoid being caught off guard by disruptions in one source.

Stronger communication throughout the supply chain is crucial. Contractors, developers, and material suppliers must be transparent about their needs and anticipated demands to allow for better forecasting and planning. Utilizing collaborative platforms and information-sharing initiatives can help improve visibility throughout the supply chain.

Emerging technologies, such as advanced planning software and digital inventory management tools, can help contractors better anticipate and manage material needs. Additionally, exploring new construction methods that utilize prefabricated components or modular construction can potentially reduce reliance on traditional materials and streamline the construction process.

The infrastructure industry is facing a critical juncture. Disruptions in the global supply chain pose a significant challenge, but they also present an opportunity for innovation and adaptation. By implementing strategic solutions and fostering a more resilient supply chain, the industry can ensure the timely and cost-effective delivery of essential infrastructure projects crucial for the nation’s continued growth and prosperity.

Source: Electrix International

 

tech

LEAVE IT TO TECHNOLOGY TO MEET MODERN CHALLENGES: PART I

To be honest, incorporating more technology into business as usual for logistics, supply chain and manufacturing entities pre-dates the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the U.S. in January 2020. But it did take the global pandemic to propel many in those industries to move unrealized digital transformation initiatives to their front burners.

In light of Industry 4.0, which places a high value on robotics, clean technology, renewable energy and transforming traditional factories into smart ones using the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, InfinityQS International announced the findings of its 2021 Customer Satisfaction Survey on June 1. 

The report from the Fairfax, Virginia-based authority on data-driven enterprise quality revealed that more than half of manufacturers now have their sights set on digital transformation to address concerns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Behold:

-52 percent of respondents reported they are currently exploring or already adopting digital transformation initiatives to enhance operational performance. 

-24 percent cited advanced analytics as their top technology priority.

“The pandemic exposed significant and often widespread operational weaknesses within incumbent manufacturing environments,” said Jason Chester, director of Global Channel Programs at InfinityQS. “It brought into sharp relief where legacy systems and outdated processes exacerbated the problems that manufacturers faced, alongside new challenges such as the rapid shift to remote work and supply chain disruption.”

Digital transformation is the key to addressing these new challenges, according to Chester. “Data, for example, is a great way for manufacturers to increase visibility into their operations as it can provide important insights into each stage of the production process. These insights can then be leveraged to make more informed and tactical decisions to secure long-term resilience and growth.”

In addition to advanced analytics, the other most popular technologies on the priority list for respondents included the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cloud computing. InfinityQS notes that either technology supports anytime, anywhere access to real-time data for proactive decision-making, enabling manufacturers to maximize performance, respond to fluctuations in demand, ensure flexible operations and even build resilience for future “black-swan” events—all while maintaining high levels of product quality and safety.

“For manufacturers to stay ahead of competition and remain at the top of their industry, they need to constantly adapt to their environment by making tactical digital investments,” Chester says. “It is great to see the majority are rebounding from the pandemic and embracing digital transformation to increase their agility and maintain competitive edge. Companies that do so are better equipped to improve their operations at a faster speed and even anticipate changes before they occur.”

A clue that an impactful industry change was on the way happened during the March 2020 MODEX show in Atlanta, where attendees were warned they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Folks can be forgiven if they were too preoccupied with personal health to consider the findings in the annual Materials Handling Industry (MHI) Report that was released during MODEX. According to the report (which you can read more about in our Industry Expertise column):

-67 percent of survey respondents said they believed robotics had the power to disrupt their industry and offer a competitive advantage for their organization. 

-39 percent of surveyed companies said they’d adopted robotics and automation. 

-73 percent of those surveyed said they plan to add more robotics or start implementing robotics in the next five years.

For a look ahead of the curve, Global Trade identified industry players who confronted a recent challenge with the help of technological partners. Our case studies are arranged by the categories Global Trade covers on the regular, from 3PLs and e-commerce to intermodal and air cargo logistics. Read on for part one. 

3PL

Company: KSP Fulfillment of Fridley, Minnesota

Challenge: Rapid growth putting pressure on order fulfillment

Problem Solver: Softeon of Reston, Virginia

Solution: Cloud-based warehouse management system (WMS)

Founded in 2012 and headquartered near Minneapolis, KSP offers a broad mix of 3PL services to multiple industries, including medical, health & beauty, education, agriculture and pet care. The Verified Veteran Owned Business has realized rapid growth, with revenues jumping 296% in 2020. That is, of course, the goal, but … 

Why is there always a “but?” 

The mountain of increased orders drove the need for additional space, and KSP is set to complete construction on a new 182,000-square-foot facility in November. However, the KSP brass also realized they needed more than additional real estate. 

“The company determined it needed a new WMS with the ability to scale, more advanced features and a better platform for continuous improvement,” explains Dennis Nicholson, vice president, Business Development at Softeon. “KSP selected Softeon as its WMS provider to help power execution of their aggressive strategy, making their decision to move to Softeon in less than two months.”

KSP was ready to move even sooner, to hear CEO Rob Walters tell it. “It was obvious in the early stages of our WMS vetting process that Softeon was going to be the right fit for our short and long-term business goals,” he says. “It was incredibly important that we chose the right strategic partners to ultimately support our customers’ needs. Softeon offers a unique combination of rich WMS functionality, robust support for 3PLs and a collaborative partnership that matches well with our culture.” 

It’s not just smaller company cultures that Softeon meshes with, having also provided a WMS solution to Germany’s DB Schenker, which is, of course, one of the world’s largest providers of freight forwarding and logistics services

AIR CARGO LOGISTICS

Company: American Airlines Cargo of Fort Worth, Texas

Challenge: Expanding temperature-controlled shipments across the entire mainline fleet 

Problem Solvers: CSafe Global of Dayton, Ohio, and CargoSense of Reston, Virginia 

Solution: State-of-the-art packaging and temperature sensors

One lesson American Airlines Cargo learned from the pandemic was that operating one of the largest cargo networks in the world made one no more prepared to handle the huge demand for distributing temperature-critical vaccines, pharmaceuticals and other life science products than Uncle Eddie’s Crop Duster Inc.

Though the new normal is getting more normal currently (knock on Formica), the demand for temperature-controlled cargo solutions is not going away. That even newer normal propelled American to enter into a number of tests and trials in partnership with CSafe Global and CargoSense. The result: All of American’s aircraft offered ideal environments for passive temperature-sensitive shipments thanks to CSafe’s industry-leading packaging and CargoSense’s Temperature Loggers.

The even more amazing result: American’s ExpediteTC solution, which was founded in 2009 to provide active and passive shipping solutions as well as a global network of temperature-controlled facilities, can now nearly double its capacity. The airline has now extended its cold-chain solution network to 30 new stations, including in-demand cities such as Memphis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. 

“When it comes to cold chain shipments, reliability is crucial for our customers,” explains Roger Samways, vice president, Commercial for American Airlines Cargo. “By expanding our offering of temperature-critical shipping on all mainline flights, we are able to provide our customers with access to more than 180 markets, marking the largest cold-chain network in our history.”

During the trials, sensors monitored internal package temperatures while aircraft operated in various climates. Results proved that temperatures of each package stayed constant, despite changing conditions during transit, according to the partnership.

 “We are excited the pharmaceutical industry can now leverage American’s full fleet at a time that is critical for all of us,” says CargoSense CEO Rich Kilmer.

Added Tom Weir, CSafe Global’s chief operating officer: “It was a privilege to work with American to conduct these trials and leverage our innovative thermal shipping solution technologies to ensure even more temperature-critical shipments can travel effectively. Many sensitive, often life-saving goods travel the world thanks to effective cold-chain networks, and we are proud to play a part in that alongside American Airlines.”

BANKING/FINANCE

Company: Old Dominion Freight Line of Thomasville, North Carolina

Challenge: Streamline payments to improve satisfaction among 10,500+ drivers 

Problem Solver: Relay Payments of Atlanta, Georgia

Solution: Instant electronic payments 

Motor carrier and industry leader Old Dominion provides regional, inter-regional, and national services that include expedited transportation through an expansive network of service centers throughout the continental U.S. as well less-than-truckload (LTL), container drayage, truckload brokerage and supply-chain consulting across North America.

However, Old Dominion lived up to the . . . ahem . . . “Old” part of its name by, like many of its peers, relying on cash and checks to conduct business. With manual payment processes creating a sub-optimal experience for customers, OD turned to Relay Payments, which recently received a $43 million infusion from venture capitalists who share the fintech company’s vision of building an electronic payment network in the transportation, logistics and supply-chain industries.

“We strive to deliver best-in-class customer service and are always looking at ways technology can improve our offerings,” explained Todd Polen, vice president, Pricing Services, at Old Dominion. “Working with Relay Payments has allowed us to remove tedious and manual steps throughout the payment process and modernize the way we do business with our customers.”

Relay’s partnership with OD’s accounting, pricing and operations teams is paying dividends, thanks to the development of unique application leveraging data integrations and custom payment workflows for each department’s specific needs. “We have entrusted Relay to process millions of dollars in volume annually,” Polen notes, “and we’ve already been able to realize millions in savings through data integration, digitalization of receipts and simplified reimbursements. On top of it all, our customers are happier than ever which is the most important to us.” 

“Our goal was to design an end-to-end solution which eliminated the use of paper-based payments and introduced operational efficiencies and increased revenue for the organization,” says Relay co-founder and President Spencer Barkoff. “We’re excited to continue working together to change the industry and keep America’s supply chain running during a period of immense challenge.”

E-COMMERCE

Company: Hermes Fulfillment of Hamburg, Germany

Challenge: Incorporate state-of-the-art technology to legacy warehouse management systems

Problem Solver: ProGlove of Munich, Germany, and Chicago, Illinois, and Ivanti Wavelink of Salt Lake City, Utah

Solution: Wearable barcode scanners and backend digital systems

Hermes Fulfilment handles the entire shipping process—including customer orders, warehousing and returns—for parent company the Otto Group’s retail companies. Besides multiple locations in Germany, Hermes has logistics, e-commerce and distribution facilities across all of Europe.

After identifying the need to upgrade technologically, Hermes officials sought an “out-of-the-box” solution: 150 of ProGlove’s wearable MARK Display barcode scanners that are married with Ivanti Wavelink’s Velocity backend/warehouse management systems.

This combo platter allows for easy integration of Telnet and browser-based applications to communicate and deliver crucial information to and from workers’ rugged mobile computers and wearable devices. 

“ProGlove’s MARK Display is a giant leap forward in barcode scanning,” says Simon Storey, Ivanti’s Global VP of Strategic Alliances. “Their devices come with a unique form factor that is tailored to meet the needs of warehouse shop floor workers superbly.”

His company’s Velocity platform helps improve accuracy and efficiency without modifying or replacing legacy backend systems, all the while maintaining and improving worker productivity. This helps reduce picking errors, decrease downtime and increase productivity without frontline workers needing additional training as they continue to work with the tools with which they are familiar. 

“The cost, risk and time associated with writing new mobile applications to keep up with modern mobile operating systems just isn’t feasible,” Storey explains. “We make it easy for their customers to deploy next-generation mobility, minimizing the risks and dependence on IT resources.”

“Ivanti’s Velocity set of solutions is a mission critical engine to boost the digitization of the shop floor,” remarks Charlie Grieco, ProGlove’s chief revenue officer. “While many organizations recognize the need for more flexibility and adaptability, they cannot just shake off the legacy systems they have in place. Ivanti resolves this issue so that businesses can change gears and accelerate to warp speed in no time.”

supply chain

In the New Normal Supply Chain, Firms Must Pivot Quickly

What will our supply chains look like after the impact of the pandemic has turned from an all-hands-on-deck crisis to some sort of new normal? Will either demand or supply patterns return to pre-COVID-19 levels? And should that happen, will it be in carefully managed phases, or more rapidly?

Many consumer-market experts speculate that we may find some of the changes in consumer buying—such as increased adoption of food home delivery or stocking cupboards with monthly visits to large-format stores—habit-forming, even after restaurants, hotels and fast-food outlets are once again operating at max capacity.

To imagine the future, we can look at what’s happening in the present crisis—astonishing, even heroic acts of supply chain flexibility.

-An industrial gases company pivoted so it was able to deliver a month’s worth of desperately needed medical oxygen in three days.

-A chain of currently shuttered department stores has loaned its distribution facilities and assets to a supermarket chain under pressure to keep food shelves full, as far more of us than usual eat three meals a day at home.

-A plastics molding company designed, developed and distributed a foldable, portable intubation shield within weeks.

These businesses have something in common—they have been able to use data and industry-specific software solutions to quickly adapt to shifting fulfilment and delivery operations, often over and over.

The need for flexibility in making and distributing goods is and will be, most obviously on show at the delivery end, where goods and services reach the point of purchase or consumption. Today’s newly responsive, efficient supply chain needs to stretch all the way to the supermarket shelf or patient’s bedside.

That won’t be possible without the ability to access and analyze extraordinarily detailed data about delivery operations. For distribution companies, this will be the key to competing and winning in a post-COVID-19 business landscape, where the ability to pivot quickly will be most prized.

What’s absolutely crucial is that companies can quickly model multiple potential new distribution strategies before they make actual changes. When granular-level information about what was delivered where and when yesterday is fed into delivery-planning software, it can help supply chain executives run myriad what-if scenarios to determine what resources to deploy tomorrow. What inventory, trucks and drivers would be required if sales volume dropped 50 percent, or doubled? What if orders are fulfilled out of a different distribution center?

Purpose-built route planning software like Aptean’s answers these and other questions in a matter of minutes—a superpower we are all going to need in the future. For example, it means a retailer can pivot quickly and easily, back and forth between replenishing outlets and delivering to homes, or rapidly increase service to demand hotspots. Regarding the “new normal” in delivery operations, the only certainty will be uncertainty. The ability to deftly manage this unpredictability will be a huge competitive advantage.

And yet, for a large number of businesses, delivery operations remain hampered by a lack of visibility or fine-tuned control. Too many rely on rudimentary distribution planning tools, or even paper-based systems to plan and assess their delivery operations. This means they are caught flat-footed when circumstances demand rapid change. Worse, the critical information about particular customer needs and demands too often resides in the head or heads of delivery planning staff, and becomes unavailable when those workers go sick or leave.

We need to pay heed to the lessons we’re learning during this challenge. The supply chain, like the virus, is global, but its effects are ultimately felt in individual businesses and homes. For companies reliant on delivery operations, if management of the final mile wasn’t a strategic imperative before COVID-19, it is now. It’s time to wake up to that reality and build delivery capabilities that are more flexible, more collaborative and, above all, data-smart.

To learn more about how to automate your route planning, contact info@aptean.com.

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Nicole O’Rourke has 25 years of success in building strategic marketing organizations and is responsible for leading Aptean’s global marketing and communications efforts as Chief Marketing Officer. She previously held the position of Senior Vice President and CMO for Manhattan Associates. Before that, she served as CMO at Covance Inc., and in senior strategic marketing roles at Aetna and Johnson & Johnson. O’Rourke holds a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Cornell University. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia, near Aptean’s global headquarters. Nicole can be contacted directly on LinkedIn or via info@aptean.com.