Agility is no longer just nice to have

Posted on 21 Feb 2022 by The Manufacturer

2021 was undoubtedly another year of challenges for supply chains among the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, and pressures rose as the end of the year approached.

At the beginning of November, shipping group Maersk reported a total of 300 container vessels laying idle outside ports around the world due to the lack of truck drivers available to offload goods. Numerous countries continue to battle the issues created by driver shortage; American Trucking Associations reported a record deficit of 80,000 drivers in October 2021. Similar situation exists in the UK, with a shortage of 100,000 drivers and almost 30% of HGV vacancies taking more than 8 weeks to fill; and further across Europe the trend is the same.

A dismal picture was painted in the lead up to the festive season, and into 2022 ever more pressure is placed upon our supply chains to pivot quickly and deal with unexpected challenges. To make this possible, supply chain organisations need to prioritise agility as well as accuracy, but how can they enable this balance?

Acting with more than just accuracy

Many supply chain organisations still believe that accuracy is the most important aspect of their operations, but in fact it’s agility that allows them to respond quickly to external factors. Historical data, for example, can only go so far in helping organisations to plan for the unexpected and create accurate forecasts. The next disruption is only just around the corner, and supply chain organisations must best prepare and position for an event before it even takes place.

To achieve agility, there must be visibility to recognise a problem, coupled with end-to-end transparency to analyse all consequences of an event and communicate the resolution to stakeholders. Transparency means understanding how an unintended consequence can impact on aspects such as the ability for products to reach customers and the financial implications of that event. It’s essentially connecting the dots between the event and the outcome.

Technology and people

In harnessing digital technology solutions, supply chain organisations can break down silos and remove reliance on disconnected Excel spreadsheets that fail to give an overview of every operation in the whole chain. Transparent data can be utilised for analytics on a cloud-based platform, enabling users to understand the impact of any decision made. Analytics is a crucial component in ensuring agility. A recent Supply Chain Insights study discovered that companies rated themselves as more agile if they were an innovator in analytics.

Technology in supply chains has played an additional role in managing repeatable tasks and facilitating automation, but in times of crisis such as the pandemic, these established lights-out methodologies no longer typically apply. Therefore, the renewed transparency of data, thanks to integrated technology, empowers planners to make key critical decisions that will impact their supply chain. Agility and scenario planning go hand-in-hand, and utilising the right technology enables supply chain organisations to be able to tie KPIs together to bring a sharper focus on end goals.

Pivoting to navigate crises and grasp opportunities

Unforeseen impacts on a supply chain can bring positive implications, such as the potential for higher sales due to increased consumer demand for DIY/homeware products (and bicycles) in the UK following the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Positive disruption can however soon become a negative if supply chain organisations are not agile enough to react to these changes, so the supply and demand alignment of supporting technology plays a crucial role. Data from scenario planning could inform organisations that a reduction in stock keeping units (SKUs) for one in-demand products better enables them to increase productivity and meet surges in demand.

In a wider sense, the ability to purchase groceries at the supermarket or even transportation of people is facilitated by the operations of a supply chain, highlighting the global importance they play in facilitating end user transactions and bringing critical goods and services to the general public. Now, supply chain partners and managers must move away from historical patterns and employ digital technology to create detailed scenarios and test them with live data and analytics. To ensure that products continue to reach those consumers, putting agility on equal footing with accuracy is the most futureproof way of anticipating future events and planning accordingly.

About the author

Jim ProfileJim Bralsford is a 25-year servant of the logistics and supply chain industry. Jim has spent time living in Asia and Europe in wide reaching leadership roles across sales, solutions, go to market/industry strategy and thought-leadership; in global logistics and supply chain solutions providers.