Christmas was in jeopardy for American citizens in 2021. The supply chain crisis (causing panicked speculation about delayed gifts and empty shelves at malls and stores), jostling for prominence with COVID statistics, had paid to the holiday spirit. To be fair, though, the supply chain crisis may have become headline-grabbing news late last year, but the pandemic that had the world in its grip since 2020 had already made a huge dent in business as usual in this network. With many more professionals signing up for supply chain management courses, it is time for us to take a step back and understand this world better. Let’s dive right in!
While Christmas, fortunately, was saved, the larger issue that the headline-grabbing news exposed — of a weakened, disrupted global supply chain — is still an unwelcome reality. To overcome the obstacles, therefore, it is important to understand the way a supply chain works, what hinders its smooth functioning, and how to safeguard businesses against it. While professional supply chain management courses are a good way to clarify fundamental concepts, it is important to stay abreast of all the political and social developments happening around the globe.
So what exactly is a supply chain? Simply put, it is an organized structured network of people and agencies performing a variety of activities along the chain that leads from the generation of demand right up to the point of delivery of goods to the end-user. When it’s seamless and flows uninterrupted, there are negligible (or easily handled) hiccups in its final delivery.
Now imagine, if circumstances beyond anyone’s control throw a spanner in the works. Like COVID-19, which strangled regular life across the board. Everything was in lockdown but the interconnectedness of the global economy, uneven lockdowns of varying severity, and varying timelines by different countries led to further supply disruptions. For instance, a hard and early lockdown in China ground everything to a halt before the rest of the world caught up. So demand continued at a fast pace with little supply powered on to meet it. Even the very bare essentials weren’t reaching people or supermarkets on time.
Even as things were limping back to normalcy, in March 2021, the Suez Canal crisis hit. An important link for trade between Asia and Europe, the canal was the venue where the 200,000-ton container ship, Ever Given, ran aground. The straw that broke the camel’s back came this year with the (still ongoing) Ukraine-Russia war, further exacerbating the problem. Things have been grim for a while now.
How to future-proof your business using supply chain management?
While supply chains have been riddled with potholes, as it were, all is certainly not lost. While unpredictable, even cataclysmic events inevitably throw things off course, there are several methods businesses can adopt to minimize damage to the supply chain. Harnessing available technologies and putting in place a system to mitigate unforeseen risks are essential solutions to future-proofing your supply chain network.
1: Digitizing and integrating the network
To increase efficiency, digitize. Bringing online and ensuring access to all data derived from the various agencies involved in supply activity will connect all the cogs in the supply wheel. Moreover, data across the board will be visible to all stakeholders so any potential problems or delays can be identified early and nipped in the bud. An integrated system, where there is end-to-end awareness of the movement of the goods passing through the supply chain will help reduce delays and offer more efficient problem-solving alternatives in case of disruption. Digitization is already happening on a large scale. Shying away from it will not only exacerbate problems. Moreover, not digitizing will make a company lose its competitive edge.
2: Automating the system
In a rapidly evolving, tech-adept world, technology and its relevance in our daily life simply cannot be undermined. Automation is a go-to requirement to help increase the productivity of the moving pieces in a supply chain. This will allow people to move on to other roles while an automated system, with all its interconnected links, works fast and efficiently. Robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), etc., are all going to be leveraged for smoother, more seamless functioning. It’s better to hop onto this tech-driven bandwagon into the future rather than get left by the wayside.
3: Leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT)
Closely related to automation is the all-encompassing IoT or Internet of Things. IoT is a matrix of physical objects (‘things’) that are connected through software, sensors, and other technology to enable information exchange over the internet. This is the bedrock of the idea of a smart home. The appliances used around the house are all interlinked to ensure a fluidly functioning home. Now imagine IoT applied to the large, hydra-headed behemoth that is a global supply chain. The entire system would be linked, allowing everyone to be aware of what is going on along the proverbial conveyer belt of supply processes. Inventory would know the status at the warehouse, which would know what’s moving in the transport hub and so on.
4: Building relationships down the line
While technology is an undeniable part of a well-managed, efficiently working supply chain, the human factor cannot be ignored. It is, after all, people who run businesses and are in charge of the overall functioning of a system. Finding the right people and cultivating enduring and trust-based relationships with suppliers is critical to an optimally working supply chain. Your soft skills matter and this is something that supply chain management courses can teach you. Quality, punctuality, and efficiency are highly valued traits. Working with like-minded people along the supply network is important to achieve the end goal.
5: Read the consumer well
Now consumers are privy to a lot of information about the importance of fair trade. Hence, sustainable and ethical practices have gained an increasing amount of cache. Things like sustainable packaging, fair labor rules, ethical practices in manufacturing, and sourcing of raw materials are gaining significance. Businesses that are transparent about their best practices or strive towards sustainability in measured ways will probably endure in the long run.
6: Flexibility in Transportation
Traditionally, road transport used to be the default mode of transport across the supply network. It started right from picking up the goods from the warehouse to the last-mile delivery. That overdependence on roads led to overburdening of the system. But, it also leads to delays if the journey by road from point to point is long. That changed to intermodal transport, which means using multiple channels of transport. All available avenues of movement, from road to sea to rail to even air are considered.
Finally, what is believed to be even more optimal and flexible — and allow for real-time changes in case they are needed — is synchromodal transportation. Here, the idea is to leverage the best transport solution based on the projected journey. The journey of the goods from where they originate to where they get delivered is considered. There is constant interaction between all involved transport agencies. This is to finalize the logistics and make changes if any prior transport falls through based on what is available. It is not only efficient cost-wise but sustainable as well. Moreover, it is highly prescribed by supply chain management courses around the world.
Knowledge Is Power: Find the Right Supply Chain Management Courses
In an uncertain world, where a fragile link in the supply chain can lead to a butterfly effect. It can cause the entire house of cards to collapse, staying on top of the game is crucial. The best way to do that is to gather as much knowledge and keep yourself updated with new trends. Supply chain management courses give you the information needed to weather storms and create a robust, unshakeable system.
For in-depth learning, the SDA Bocconi School of Management offers Supply Chain Management: An Immersive Operations and Strategy Program, which is extensive, exhaustive, hands-on—and interesting. The Rialto Global Supply Challenge is a tool used in this program that enables learners deep dive into all aspects of the supply chain. The objective is to get practical experience in understanding the fundamentals of the supply chain. It covers everything from the demand strategy, the distribution network, procurement, sales, marketing, etc. It entails learning the ins and outs of every link along the supply chain. There is also an integration with the role of each stakeholder and much else.
In supply chain management, being ready for anything should be a mantra to live, and work by. Such supply change management courses are your first step in achieving that.
By Gauri Kelkar
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