Supply chain management has long been the unsung hero of global trade, keeping the products that run the world’s economy flowing across borders as efficiently and smoothly as possible, only drawing attention when a failure occurs.
Unfortunately, the global coronavirus pandemic has pushed supply chain resilience* to the forefront of everyone’s attention. Everyone has read about the toilet paper shortages that weren't and the massive amounts of food going to waste because of almost immediate shifts in supply chain and demand for products, but few people think about the heroic efforts being undertaken to keep goods moving even in these difficult circumstances.
Logistics teams have continued to work non-stop through this whole crisis - ships are still sailing, trucks are still on the road, warehouses and rail yards are still receiving and distributing cargo across the country and across the world. Even those of use who don’t physically touch the shipments have been putting in overtime trying to keep lines of communication between partners open and making sure all regulatory requirements continue to be met so that global trade stays open.
A few weeks ago we wrote about the initial set of challenges posed by remote work in the supply chain. Since then, we’ve been talking to a lot of customers about the adjustments they’re making..
We work with some of the world’s largest commodity traders and merchants - and here's what we've heard:
Exporters getting better at agility in execution operations but still hampered
Paper and process still hampering basic operations
Some of our customers have gone 100% virtual, while others are rotating staff through their offices 1 or 2 at a time. In both cases, the consensus seems to be that everyone has (mostly) figured out the basics of full or partial work-from-home, but are continually hampered by unexpected hiccups - the hard copy of a document that gets sent by mail and ends stranded in a closed office, holding up the release of a container. The difficulty of effectively managing a team’s workflow when no-one is in the same space anymore.
Getting used to sub-optimal set-up
Hardware problems are not as critical as they were several weeks ago as companies have found ways to get laptops into their employees' hands, but the infrastructure supporting those machines continues to be problematic. Many home computers are aging and are struggling to deal with VPNs and software packages intended to be run on heavy-duty on-premise servers. Almost everyone is committed to migrating operations to the cloud.
Access to real-time information + Visibility more important than ever
Our customers are begging for better real-time information and more visibility - whether that’s the ability to see inventory in real-time while writing a purchase contract or accessing revised sailing schedules and costs. Information and visibility are more important than ever. We’ve accelerated the addition of our real-time inventory and booking functions to service more industries as a result.
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Customers are focusing in on resilience + improvements in product-forward supply chain
Emerging from the fog
The good news is that, across the board, all of our customers and prospects have gotten over the initial shock - and are viewing the pandemic as a wake-up call to ready their businesses for future crises and volatility. They are working on boosting their supply chain resilience and on fixing their internal processes and technology to be more agile - on the theory that they’ll be able to hit the ground running once the situation more or less normalizes.
Uncertainty + volatility here to stay
Our customers think that managing their supply chains is going to stay hard. As uncertainty reigns in the duration of remote operations (with some states like Georgia rolling back restrictions starting as soon as next week, while some West Coast states are openly talking about the possible repercussions of continuing some form of quarantine through the fall and into 2021) and the state of commodity trade remaining volatile (with blank sailings, domestic transportation overloaded, etc), customers agree that it is a brave new world for shippers.
Please contact us if you’re interested in joining a webinar on Supply Chain Resilience: On April 29th, 12-1 ET, our CEO Vijay Harrell is discussing the topic with investor Closed Loop Partners, Trends in Circular Innovations for Resilient Supply Chains. By invitation only.
And, as always, I’d love to learn more about your strategies in these difficult times. You can reach me at email@example.com - or if you’re interested in seeing our magic in action, ask me for a demo.
*Supply chain resilience is the supply chain's ability to be prepared for unexpected risk events, responding and recovering quickly to potential disruptions to return to its original situation or grow by moving to a new, more desirable state in order to increase customer service, market share and financial performance.