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