Pandemic vs. the Supply Chain: Can Technology Solve the Issues?
The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the global supply chain that are still being felt through elevated freight rates, capacity constraints, and unpredictable transit times. Logistics technology solutions hope to resolve newly uncovered root cause issues within the supply chain through improvements in processes and visibility.
How the Pandemic Changed the Supply Chain
Globalization has long been at the heart of supply chains - connecting the world through communication, goods, services, and technologies. It has driven efficiencies and cost-savings in the procurement, manufacture, and transportation of goods, and supported a market of readily available and affordable consumer products. The COVID pandemic and ensuing ocean freight crisis challenged these established practices and forced companies to examine their supply chain processes. This shift can be seen in several areas:
- Reconsidering the just-in-time (JIT) supply chain: While JIT is extremely beneficial for reducing costs through improved inventory management, it requires a high level of specificity and demands consistent, reliable delivery schedules. Since freight market instability is likely to continue for several years, many companies are reverting to the practice of maintaining a stock of essential parts and materials to reduce inventory risks in case of another crisis.
- Increased focus on agility and flexibility: With so many variables at play, a setback in any link of the supply chain can have a crippling impact on the ability to meet demand. More than ever, companies are developing processes that allow them to pivot and adapt quickly when global market conditions threaten inventory levels and production schedules.
- Diversification of supplier and provider networks: Strategies to improve flexibility often include decreasing reliance on single suppliers and transportation by diversifying those networks. Diverse networks help mitigate risk in a volatile market and provide alternate material sources and freight capacity when contracted vendors cannot meet demand.
These shifts in supply chain strategy are critical to maintaining inventory and fulfilling customer orders in today’s unpredictable environment. Unfortunately, they also contribute to increased pressure on buyers and supply chain teams. Monitoring inventory levels, proactively identifying out-of-stock risks, and managing a growing vendor network require more manual processes for tracking and data entry, and put enormous strain on buyers.
Technology for the “New” Supply Chain
Pandemic-related supply chain disruptions forced companies to adopt new processes quickly and created new problems for the teams responsible for managing them. Emerging logistics technologies aim to streamline supply chain management with solutions in automation, integration, and visibility.
Digitization and automation provide solutions for eliminating tedious, manual tasks and increasing supply chain efficiencies. For the supply chain team, automated processes free up time, minimize human error, improve productivity, and create a more favorable work environment. Additionally, automated technologies make it possible to quickly consolidate and analyze data into useful insights to assist teams in managing costs, avoiding out-of-stock occurrences, and forecasting future demand.
System Integration & Interoperability
Communication between supply chain parties is notoriously slow, as partners spanning multiple time zones and languages attempt to share information and updates. While technology has provided new mediums for communication - email, chat apps, text messages, and online platforms - it also created a disjointed labyrinth of disparate data for supply chain teams to navigate. System integration solutions simplify the communication matrix by overlaying on existing systems and meeting suppliers and other providers where they are, rather than requiring the adoption of new technology. This system interoperability allows all parties to communicate seamlessly by connecting disparate systems into a singular hub.
Supply chain visibility is critical to a company’s success, as it is inextricably linked to the ability to meet customer demand and deliver on-time, in-full orders. While many technologies have attempted to improve visibility in the supply chain, most rely on transportation-related references (like container or BOL numbers) for tracking rather than the more relevant SKU or purchase order numbers. This data gap limits true inventory insight and creates additional hurdles to identifying and mitigating risk, particularly during transit. Lifecycle PO tracking solutions provide granular inventory data in real-time to improve forecasting and minimize out-of-stock occurrences.
What to Look for in a Supply Chain Tech Solution
Technology solutions for the new supply chain should do more than rip and replace – they should integrate with existing processes and augment a team’s ability to react and adapt when disruptions threaten inventory. Technology should automate processes and eliminate redundancies, limit manual data entry, and provide actionable insights to keep the supply chain moving. A solution should be easily implemented without dramatically changing workflows to deliver quick ROI and substantially increase efficiencies.
Leverage provides supply chain technology solutions that modern companies need to achieve end-to-end purchase order visibility through automated PO status collection and AI-powered inventory updates. Teams are alerted to risks before an out-of-stock occurrence, giving them the time they need to proactively address issues and ensure on-time in-full deliveries. Leverage’s white-glove Systems Integrations team handles the heavy-lifting to launch implementation in days, not months, speeding up ROI and maximizing cost savings. Contact the experts at Leverage for a consultation and learn more about their automation and visibility solutions.