Insight Blog

Supply Chain Trends – Weak Links – Bright Future

by Pat Musselman

March 30, 2020 | Strategic Execution

With technology supposedly making life easier, why does it seem that at every turn I hear what I perceive to be potentially new weak links in the supply chain. I am not talking about unexpected events such as the COVID-19 outbreak which is placing a great deal of stress on more than just today’s supply chains. I am instead speaking of the factors and trends that are expected to impact the supply chain of the future. Vendors and research organizations alike are warning us about a different tidal wave of disruption descending upon us.

I have read material from a number of sources where author perspectives have provided a few common themes, but no clear consensus as to exactly what we should be preparing for. As I catch myself again staring at my laptop screen, pondering the future impacts of each article, I decided I should take action to break out of this ponderous paralysis. A list to help me get a better sense of the breadth and depth of this impending onslaught of change seems like a logical step. Without looking very far, I put together the following:

Included with this potentially overwhelming mix of rapidly advancing technology is the increased threat of cybercrime and confusion around how Blockchain applies to all of this. It seems that a logical conclusion is to assume almost everything is changing even if it didn’t make my list. And since the list didn’t really help reveal a consensus, my experience suggests a return to the basics especially in times of uncertainty. My version of getting back to the basics is the same today as it was 25 years ago. I strip away the technology, or tool discussion in order to focus on what matters most and go through the following process.

Clarify the challenge – Articulate and align on what is being solved for in order to avoid chasing solutions to symptoms.

Understand today’s process – Go beyond mapping the end-to-end value stream flow and assess process adherence, effectiveness, efficiency, gaps, and potentially non-value-added activity.

Define information requirements – Think beyond just the basic data points to identify what quality data looks like and any additional data points necessary to enable the process and support its stakeholders with meaningful information that enables data driven decisions.

Assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats – Apply systems thinking to preserve overall process strengths, identify material weaknesses in need of remediation, be opportunistic within risk tolerances, and be aware of competitors actions.

Brainstorm and prioritize – Collect great ideas regardless of where they originate, apply an estimated value to ideas transparently, prioritize, and plan for action.

Including internal and external colleagues helps shed additional light on the challenge, gain a broader supply chain perspective, prioritize initiatives, and ultimately produce better results. The activities outlined can provide focus with resulting outcomes, priorities, and action plans tailored to your organization’s unique challenges and opportunities. Whether you follow this or another process, you are much more likely to strengthen what may be the weakest link in the chain – ourselves. With better information in hand, we can re-introduce the evaluation of tools and their ability to create value within a meaningful context.

Supply chain solutions have matured a great deal in 25 years. A number of the trends forecasted back then have a familiar ring to what we are hearing now. I believe the difference is that the efficacy and affordability of technology offerings today are catching up with the promises of old at an accelerating pace. Although many of the technology tools appear homogenous, the potential combinations and configurations of shrink-wrapped solutions provide businesses an opportunity to tailor their supply chain processes and supporting tool sets much more now than ever before. It is exciting to witness the prognostications made 25-years ago being delivered and surpassed. I would even go as far to say, the future looks even brighter as we re-imagine how far we can go in the next 25 years.

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