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Opinion: Resilience to drive supply chains in a post-pandemic world

The news that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be available in early 2021 brings with it renewed hope that the world may return to normal by the end of the same year.

The pandemic has shown us many things, among them that the resourcefulness and resilience of communities – both locally and globally – is alive and well. That’s been especially true in the business world where organisations and their supply chains have proved flexible and adaptable to change.

And while some will argue that the pandemic was the wake up call that supply chains needed, it is fair to say that alarm bells were already ringing. 2020 was gearing up to be a hard year with Brexit looming, trade deals stalling and tensions between the US and China showing no sign of resolving.

Smart companies were already preparing for that – they were just unaware of what was to come. But, as 2020 draws to a close and as the new year ushers in new hope, there can be no doubt that we are operating in different times. The world has been marked indelibly. As such, we’re a little wiser for the experience, and far more aware of what can go wrong. But will we be better prepared? And are supply chains going to be adapt accordingly, making them more resilient to shock and therefore more viable in the long-term?

Supply chain science is rooted in notions of consistency and continuity. Indeed the five rights – right quality, the right quantity, the right place, the right time, and the right price – are essentially about ensuring continuity of business. Inherent in them is a resilience that prevents loss of supply and therefore a loss of business.

To an extent, resilience has gone out of fashion in favour of cost. It means that those basic principles have been put to one side, and with them some resilience. Of course, it’s hard to put a cost on resilience until you find out that you are not – it’s a cost hat no organisation wants to bear.

Necessary adaptations

The challenges that posed the greatest risk to supply chains at the start of 2020 were geopolitical. Moribund trade deals and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit were forcing UK companies to bring sourcing closer to home. The trade dispute between the US and China also meant that moving goods around the world became more and more and difficult. The savvy companies had already made their move.

The ensuing chaos that resulted from COVID-19 means that we are likely to see an acceleration of strategies that keep supply chains liquid, reduce risk and lower cost. Industry experts are calling for a joined up approach to digital initiatives, placing automation at the heart of an orchestrated and conceptualised transition to integrated supply chains.

From that vantage point, companies will be in a position to
observe, manage track and trace performance along a global supply ecosystem. This not only fosters transparency and visibility, but supports the evolution of processes and systems that are governed by data – and therefore rooted in fact.

This matters because the path we tread over the next 12 months is as much about recovery as it is about ensuring the long-term health of supply chains. It’s about asking ourselves how prepared we are for disruption of this magnitude. It’s about asking ourselves if our supply chains are prepared and ready to cope with significant amounts of stress.

We can only do that if we know where we are. We can only do that if our supply chains are flexible, adaptable and able to move with demands of a modern, post pandemic world. Technology is undoubtedly at the heart of that.

Of course, this isn’t just about technology. Technology is an enabler. The future is very much about having the right setup, the right infrastructure and the right strategy. It’s about improving business process, supply chain governance and about building a strong culture that supports the journey to a digital future.

True resilience comes from embracing challenges and working with them, rather than working against them. To that end, our approach should be one of small but constant evolution – and not one of forced, reactive revolution. Challenges and disruptions are rarely what we expect them to be. And to that end, we must remain open, flexible and adaptable to change if we are to build strong, resilient and thriving supply chains.

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