As I highlighted in my blog at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the complexities of modern supply chains prevented many businesses from agilely adapting and responding to the disruption witnessed in 2020. As the uncertainty and volatility continues, organizations also struggle to deliver on customers' fluctuating expectations. This affects all stages of the supply chain from production to distribution. At the same time, the profession is experiencing a major talent shortage.
These challenges existed long before COVID. But addressing supply chains is necessary if they are going to truly deliver, both in the short term and for long after the pandemic. Some of these are quick wins. But forward-looking businesses are also thinking about long-term strategies to better prepare for the future, whatever it may hold. In this blog, I'll discuss how you can innovate to make your supply chain a source of competitive advantage.
Agility and visibility
During the first wave of the pandemic, many organizations realized they lacked visibility into their supply chains. Everyone needed to locate their stock. Did it leave the factory? Which trucks was it on? Was it in the middle of the ocean? Yet all they could see was when customers ordered it and when it arrived.
With waves of closures and reopenings, many businesses also learned they weren't all that agile. Some of this stemmed from their systems. For example, an inability to relocate a shipping container to another port. Others originated from suppliers; most goods are still produced in third-party plants.
Maintaining supply planning, visibility, and transparency across partners and geographies is difficult. With disparate systems managing different representations of data, each subsystem integrator user has separate ways of managing and arranging it. Fortunately, today's technologies can help supply chains realize a single source of truth.
Digital platforms and technologies
Organizations are increasingly implementing end-to-end supply chain visibility solutions that hook into existing systems. For example, one of our clients moved what it used to invest in ships into digital platforms. It's created new supply chain management platforms to help customers, with a focus on the integration – particularly on the supplier side.
At the same time, automation is helping businesses in the near term. As well as meeting workload challenges, automation reduced the stress on employees, boosted productivity, and tackled the significant talent shortage.
We implemented 120 bots on top of one client's systems, primarily around transportation management, so it could achieve gains in productivity. These bots allowed tasks to happen much faster, and today, speed is everything.
But it's not just about automating tasks. By adding artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), automation can improve itself and learn from its decisions to make better ones in the future. Automation is a great productivity tool and an important part of speed and scale, and with AI and ML, decision-making and productivity continually improve.
The future of supply chains
I'm reassured by the many substantial investments currently made in supply chains. Some transformation initiatives involve end-to-end solutions that span blocks, geographies, and partners to synchronize disparate data and systems. They can simulate disruptions in supply or changes in demand to understand the impact on the business, and they're agile enough to react accordingly. But if you're not yet ready for that scale of undertaking, augmenting and automating some of your people and processes today will still make for a more agile supply chain.