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Moving Past COVID-19: Risk Mitigation Strategies to Drive Supply Chain Resilience

risk mitigation strategies

Moving Past COVID-19: Risk Mitigation Strategies to Drive Supply Chain Resilience

As the world begins to ease movement restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are wondering where they go from here and how they can reduce risks moving forward.

These questions are especially relevant to supply chains, as the pandemic disrupted trade flows across borders, from raw materials to finished products. The initial decline in production in China rippled across the world, as the country sits at the heart of many global manufacturing networks. As the virus spread west, more nations instituted lockdowns to protect public health, leading to an increase in factory closures and a sudden drop in consumer demand.

The shock to the global economy was breathtaking in both scope and speed. The search for efficiencies within disrupted supply chains is now driving organizations to look at the lessons that can be learned, in order to better manage and mitigate risk of disruption from future events.

Before you develop risk mitigation strategies, you have to first understand how your suppliers were affected by the pandemic. Are they considered essential? Did they have trouble sourcing raw materials or run low on critical inventory? Did they suffer a shortage of labor due to workers falling sick? Did they face transportation issues?

Once these questions have been answered, then you can start developing and implementing risk mitigation strategies: from immediate actions to enhance supply chain resilience and reduce future supply bottlenecks, to longer-term strategies that require a greater investment of time and resources.

Short- to Medium-Term Strategies

1. Develop a supply chain risk monitoring program

If not already in place, companies should integrate risk management into their supply chain, sourcing strategies and ongoing category management processes. A comprehensive risk monitoring framework should capture the following key elements:

-Understanding the critical risk-prone categories and level of risk across the supply chain

-Regular monitoring of different risk types across suppliers – going beyond just financial indicators, to cover operational, compliance, strategic and geographic risks

-Scenario and contingency planning for unforeseen situations

2. Identity alternative logistics partners for future contingencies

Companies trying to recover from economic lockdowns will face hurdles in shipping markets roiled by deep capacity cuts and weeks of disruption. Airfreight could be constrained for months as airlines continue to operate reduced schedules. Identify and qualify alternative logistics providers to mitigate service failures by an existing partner.

3. Shift supplier base to other low-cost countries

The drop in exports from China in the first quarter led to a significant increase in sourcing from other countries for many product categories. American and European manufacturers started sourcing raw materials and goods from low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Turkey. A diversified geographical sourcing strategy is an effective way to ensure supply chain continuity. Larger companies are leading the charge in this respect: Apple, for example, recently pledged to invest more in Vietnam.

4. Adequate focus on ensuring compliance with new regulatory norms

Companies need to assess new regulations put in place by regulatory bodies across the globe, and identify those that impact their supply chains, manufacturing processes or end products. Dedicating time and resources to reviewing and adapting existing procedures will be critical to ensure compliance with the latest requirements.

Long-Term Strategies

1. Implement a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) model for uninterrupted supply

COVID-19 has affected many e-commerce businesses as well as how consumers shop. Brands need to be agile and able to move at speed to find and meet demand. Many B2C businesses (and their partners) are pivoting to a direct-to-consumer model because it helps strengthen brand loyalty and increase consumer confidence in terms of certainty and guaranteed supply of goods and products.

2. Develop alternative supply chains

Developing new supply chains in collaboration with respective governments can ensure faster delivery of key raw materials. Further, to avoid supply chain disruptions arising from factory shutdowns in the future, companies can develop a manufacturing network strategy that leverages government economic development programs that encourage domestic production.

3. Consider supply chain digitalization supported by automation

The coronavirus crisis may be a tipping point in the transition to digital platforms and applications that help establish an interconnected network of supply chain components. In a digital supply chain, every activity is able to interact with one another, allowing for greater connectivity between areas that previously did not exist.

Investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and Internet of Things can help companies gain real-time visibility, better manage inventories, improve logistics tracking and make better-informed decisions. These alternatives to often error-prone ERP systems and manual spreadsheets can help businesses predict disruptions and design actionable mitigation strategies.

4. Adopt robust demand planning practices

Traditional planning tries to match demand with supply for the next 30 days. The problem with this process is that a lot of things can change in a month, or even a week. Today’s fast-moving markets require more forward-looking planning to correctly determine demand for future production and identify potential material and manufacturing capacity shortages. Companies should also invest in strengthening their online presence, and focus on quality assurance and delivery timelines, as more and more customers become reliant on e-commerce channels.

Outlook for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant effects on international supply chains. Going forward, the crisis is likely to give further impetus to trends already underway. More companies are seeking to leverage their production plants outside China or are planning to build production in new locations. The shift to online shopping will accelerate, putting more pressure on companies to meet expectations in an on-demand economy.

When planning ahead, timely, relevant market intelligence is fundamental to making complex decisions and embedding long-term strategies.

Access to timely, relevant market intelligence, conducting the right analysis and asking the right questions now, will provide the opportunity to build a robust, agile procurement strategy that minimizes risk and safeguards business continuity, without sacrificing profitability.

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Tavleen Kaur and P Vijay are Research Managers at The Smart Cube

supply chain

Leveraging Digital Technology to Create a More Resilient Supply Chain

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the flow of goods across the globe, from raw materials to finished products. The pandemic has raised awareness of the importance of truck drivers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers who have kept products moving in this challenging environment. The economic ramifications have forced companies and industries to reevaluate their supply chains.

Additionally, the pandemic has vividly illustrated that today’s highly interlinked, international supply chains have more potential points of failure and less flexibility for absorbing delays and disruptions than business leaders may have realized.

To build more resilient and flexible supply chains, companies may consider several options, including bringing some critical activities closer to home, setting up backup suppliers to reduce exposure to any single supplier/country, or refining their inventory strategies. Of course, any such alteration will affect logistics and transportation.

Having the right combination of technology, expertise, people, and solutions in place is critical as companies revisit their supply chain strategies. Fortunately, leveraging supply chain technology can improve end-to-end visibility, resiliency, and efficiency within your supplier networks.

Advances in digital technology and automation are driving the continued evolution of supply chains. Some of the most impactful technologies can be grouped into three buckets:

Automation

-Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
-Configurable workflows

 

Digitization

-Artificial intelligence
-Machine learning
-Cloud computing

 

Big data

-Internet of Things

 

Companies in many industries currently employ these technologies. GlobalTranz uses these technology advances to enable and support our people.  We have used RPA to streamline many rote, operational tasks and allow our workforce to tackle more strategic, higher-value activities, particularly those which build relationships with our customers, suppliers, and partners. RPA creates a software robot leveraging a specific set of rules to automate tasks, such as document retrieval, inter-system data entry, approval processes, and gathering track and trace data. Unlike traditional custom-developed solutions, RPA can be continuously modified in a more real-time approach – especially important as the number of data sources and the sheer amount of data continues to increase.

By contextualizing data and reviewing daily processes, businesses can make complex and time-consuming processes more efficient. For example, when using RPA to gather track and trace data, you can be assured that the information is the most recent and accurate.

Before building bots to automate the collection of track-and-trace information, GlobalTranz devoted nearly 139 days’ worth of time annually, per person, to this task. Automation has enabled people to spend more time with customers and partners helping them devise strategies to address challenges brought on by COVID-19 and create a more resilient supply chain.

As companies look ahead to the economic recovery, it is imperative that they obtain greater visibility into their own facilities, their direct suppliers, and logistics partners. The crisis demonstrates the need for resiliency and accurate, real-time information that can help businesses make better-informed decisions and mitigate the costs of supply chain disruptions.

Obtaining accurate, real-time information to mitigate complexity and create resiliency requires a more digitized approach. Disruptive risks require investment in additional supply chain resilience even though the gains and the return on investment may not be immediate.

Successful organizational change, much like social change, can be influenced by the people and capabilities around us – including both stakeholders within your business and your supply chain partners – as well as how internal data and external intelligence are leveraged to make better business decisions.

resilience

The Importance of Supply Chain Resilience

Acknowledging potential weaknesses in your supply chain before they are exposed by elements beyond your control is of critical value. With current events in mind, managing future supply chain disruptions will be an integral component of corporate strategy. Calling it Supply Chain Resilience, Supply Chain Disruption, or Business Continuity Management (from the ISO 22301 standard) does not affect the necessity of having strategies in place that may make the difference between following or leading in a disrupted economy, and even between surviving or folding.

To identify potential soft spots, a review should not be limited to a single product flow or single supply chain element. For any company, the next big disruption does not have to be a pandemic; it can be something minuscule on a global scale, yet have the same devastating effect on the ill-prepared in particular trade lanes or in a particular industry. Unpredictable is not a reason to be unprepared. Creating supply chain resilience is a holistic exercise that involves more than just a few savvy logistics people. HR, finance, compliance/legal (to name a few) are all stakeholders in a healthy case of business continuity management.

How then to build a strategy? Like any other strategy, the process seems logical: review, assess, and mitigate. In this particular case: 1) review your tradelanes, products, and materials flow by matching them against risk categories (i.e., labor, business risk, global trade, nature, and materials), 2) assess risks for each combination, and 3) mitigate risks by either changing behavior now or planning for alternate (sourcing) options should the anticipated risks become reality.

Trade Lanes and Risk Categories

The relevant components to review within the supply chain include the importing and exporting country or countries, the manufacturing locations, the finished goods, and the (raw) materials. Ideally, for finished goods and materials, the associated Harmonized System (HS) codes are made available. Scratch what does not apply and move to the following step where each of the ‘inputs’ is categorically reviewed.

As mentioned, this should not be an exercise limited to supply chain professionals. For example, labor risks can be associated with the likelihood of strikes, wage volatility, and the availability of appropriate labor resources—not necessarily areas that keep the supply chain brain occupied every day.

In a similar fashion, other resilience elements expand across different areas of expertise. Business risks relate to cybersecurity, corruption, counterfeit products, and the chance of entering into business with bad actors that are on (any of the) denied party lists.

Global trade accounts for the compliance requirements related to the shipment of goods (i.e., licenses, documentation, permits, etc.), associates the products with the various duties and taxes, and identifies if Free Trade Agreements(FTA) apply and how to qualify for preferential treatment.

Arguably the most unpredictable, but not the least expected risk to account for, is nature. It’s important to identify the various kinds of disasters that may hit: natural hazards, pandemics or epidemics, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, or drought can all play parts.

Lastly, consider materials. Understanding the market comes with insights into scarcity, sourcing locations, and price fluctuations.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessments match the input with the risk categories. For example, how vulnerable is the manufacturing location when it comes to labor regulations, corruption, or flooding? Is there an FTA in place that could potentially lower the import duty burden? Where in the supply chain can a cyberattack be most expected? In short, some homework is in order to create a thorough risk profile.

For many components, the sources are readily available, such as the Corruption Index at transparency.org, labor statistics on Statista or NationMaster, or duty rate information from the various global trade content providers (or the WTO).

Building Resilience

As with cyber-security risks (PEN tests) or a regular laptop virus scan, supply chain risk assessments will point out the components that need immediate attention or, in this case, are a high priority for alternate sourcing or routing options. It’s then time to build that resilience.

Look for options by analyzing the market and tradelanes. Mine import and export data to identify alternative sources for goods and materials, even manufacturing locations. Map out alternative routes for products to get where they need to go. Document the reasonable options and share with as many people as possible—preparedness is, of course, an all-inclusive strategy.

Next and where possible: test run! Re-route shipments temporarily or source occasionally from a new supplier; in other words, make sure the alternative options are viable. In addition, communicate with external sources that would be part of continuity plans. Make them aware they are part of these plans; put people or suppliers on a retainer and try to agree on terms before disaster strikes so the projected costs can be anticipated better.

Lastly, keep those alternate plans up to date; otherwise, it may be too late to create and execute on alternate alternative plans.