To a large extent, Supply Chain and uncertainty go hand in hand. Driver delays, transportation failure, strikes, hike in fuel prices, carrier capacity shortage, vendor hold-ups, thefts, and fires at warehouses are all common issues in the supply chain ecosystem. Most supply chain leaders are not only aware of them but also have alternate plans or solutions ready to tackle these issues as and when they arise.
However as supply chains become increasingly global in nature, businesses not only have to contend with minor uncertainties but also have to manage larger global disruptions that may threaten their very existence. These disruptions are like black swan events which no one can forecast or plan for in advance. They arrive on the horizon suddenly and upset the status quo, often requiring a rearrangement of how the business functions and manages its supply chain in the future.
What Global Disruptions does the Supply Chain need to be aware of?
Globalization has added a layer of complexity to business operations. Now businesses have to keep an eye on what’s happening around the world and be able to identify possible threats to their business in all the countries that they operate in or source raw materials from.
Natural disasters are the most common global disruptors. Wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, and floods can interrupt regular operations for a long time in the country that they happen in. It can take years to rebuild factories and get them operating at optimum capacity. For example, according to reports, the 2011 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan had caused grave damage to infrastructure and manufacturing facilities in the country. Given the wide scope of Japanese companies’ operations, the impact of the earthquake and Tsunami was felt by their business partners around the world.
Political and Trade Relations:
Cordial political and trade relations amongst the governments of the originating country and the nations that the organization wants to do business are a must for smooth operations. If there’s any change in the relationship either political or trade, it can become difficult for the business to carry out its business activities without disruptions. A recent case in point is the ongoing trade war between China and the US. This has not only soured relations between the two nations but has also created a tumultuous situation for other nations involved in international trade with the two countries.
Similarly, an unfavorable change in foreign trade policies – without the threat of a trade war – due to political fallout or change in the growth strategy can make it hard for foreign businesses to sustain long term in the country.
Another factor that can derail supply chains across the globe is an economic recession. If any of the major economies of the world like the US, China, Germany, India, France, and the UK experience an economic downturn it is bound to impact the nations that it does business with. A major economic failure can also lead to a global recession like the 2008 global recession which led to many businesses closing shop or limiting their reach to certain geographies only.
Since digitalization and technology have become an integral part of the supply chain, another threat that can cause great damage to not only the business but also customers are cyber attacks. These attacks on technology and systems can impact a business’s reliability, trustworthiness, and endanger the trade and even personal data.
Unlike the regular supply chain disturbances, these threats are unforeseeable and due to their unpredictable nature, not easily manageable. Each event – even if it is of the same kind – requires a specialized and unique response.
The better prepared a supply chain is to respond to a sudden event, the more likelihood of it overcoming the challenge and sustaining its operations. Hence, now more than ever it has become critical for supply chains across the globe to assess themselves against invisible threats and prepare to deal with black swan events as and when they occur.
What can you do to make your supply chain ready to weather disruptions?
While there is no fixed roadmap on how to deal with these kinds of threats, there are a few steps that businesses can take to safeguard their interests and bounce back with minimum possible damage.
- Imagine the unimaginable: Organizations now need to think ahead and plan for events that may or may not happen. It is critical to simulate scenarios that can disrupt your business and find solutions to overcome them before these scenarios play out in the real world. Create a contingency plan for what-ifs: for example – what would you do if an earthquake struck your manufacturing facility or if one of your vendors had to temporarily close down business because his unit was in the eye of the storm? Do you have an alternative option? If not, then that’s where you start your planning.
- Find substitute suppliers: We have often highlighted the importance of having multiple trusted vendors on board. There’s no better time than now to reiterate this point. Find vendors in different regions when the business and the world is functioning in normal conditions. Try out a few transactions with them and work on building a relationship with them. Access to vendors in different regions can help keep the business running even if there’s some disturbance in one region or country. This will enable you to keep your supply chain functioning.
- Build alternative service providers and business partners: It’s not just the suppliers that you need to keep your supply chain up and running. Along with a roaster of trusted suppliers you also need to build a repository of other service providers and business partners such as transporters, shipping lines, warehousing facilities in all the regions where your business operates. This is critical because if you have to shift your business from one sector to another due to some contingency, you will know who to hire and partner with.
- Identify the pain points of your supply chain: No business or supply chain is perfect. Some have a strong inventory management system but a poor relation with transporters. Others have a rigorous forecasting procedure in place but struggle with people management or may have customer issues. Any of these weak points have the capability to be further aggravated during an emergency. Hence, it is critical to know the pain points of your supply chain and work on finding viable solutions.
- Make data security a priority: In the current scenario where technology is a part of every function and system within an organization, data security has become critical. It’s not just your business data that is at risk, but also the information that your customers and vendors share while doing business with you that is in danger. Even a small breach of data can put your and your customers or business partners at risk. So make technology and systems audit an integral part of your organization.
- Learn from past disruptions: Maybe the earthquake in Japan did not impact your business or the hurricane Katrina did not affect your region, but it did cause damage to other businesses and regions. Observe what they did to get their business and supply chain up and running. Find out what were the difficulties they faced, learn from them, and find solutions for such situations that are viable for your business.
- Analyze: We can’t emphasize the importance of carrying on an ongoing analysis of your supply chain. This is the only way where you can not only find out the risk to your business, but also identify threats and challenges, and work on solutions to mitigate them before they become unmanageable.
Will the analysis help in mitigating risks from black swan events? If you keep these threats in mind while conducting analysis, then it will help build awareness among your team and urge them to work on finding viable solutions.