During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. encountered sparsely filled meat cases, a shortage of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, and a rush on toilet paper. Since then, supply chain challenges have multiplied exponentially.
For instance, there has been a halt in construction, causing an imbalance in the housing market supply and demand. Similarly, there is also a shortage of diapers, and slower overseas shipping has resulted in extended wait times for new cars, furniture, and appliances. From computer chips and lumber to aluminum and shipping containers, shortages are delaying deliveries and raising costs for consumers.
More Supply Chain Managers Are Needed
The pandemic has forced many businesses to rethink their operations in order to stay afloat. Fortunately, businesses have realized the benefit of skilled supply chain managers to maintain operations on a local, national and global scale.
Recent high-profile events — from COVID-19 to the Suez Canal debacle — have brought supply chain managers into the spotlight, as organizations have had to overcome unprecedented disruption and develop new techniques for sustainability and resilience. As this trend continues, we will only see the role of supply chain managers grow.
In its 2019 Supply Chain Manager survey, Deloitte found that 54% of the surveyed supply chain managers believed the skills and capabilities of their current teams were insufficient to execute their companies’ procurement strategies. The supply chain manager’s position will eventually increase in influence as this type of job requires cross-functional oversight and mobilization power across the entire organization to enable true supply chain traceability.
The Benefits That Supply Chain Mangers Bring to Organizations
According to Supply Chain Brain, supply chain managers provide three key benefits to their organizations:
- Strategic leadership. To some extent, supply chain managers will have to be elevated above traditional C-suite executives to oversee all components of the business. Because the supply chain has touchpoints in so many areas, supply change managers must oversee all the ripple effects across programs and teams, ranging from procurement, purchasing, sourcing, and logistics to legal, manufacturing, finance, and product development.
- Technology expertise. With the responsibility of working across the organization and breaking down silos, supply chain managers need domain knowledge of tools and systems. A supply chain manager is a stakeholder in how the business buys and implements new technology to coordinate the use of data and cross-functional team collaboration.
In an effort to prepare for the unknown, many companies will continue to embrace Agile technology such as low-code/no-code. The supply chain manager must be a leader in the standardization of common technology platforms that enable enterprise flexibility while providing the ability to address potential issues at “the edge” or “last mile.”
- Culture fit. Ultimately, the supply chain manager role is centered around change management. Supply chain managers must possess the ability to mobilize people and encourage innovation, rather than allowing an organization to stay comfortable with antiquated technology and procedures. Leading by example and working alongside other C-suite roles, supply chain managers should shape a vision for the future and promote continuous improvements to push an organization’s internal culture toward innovation.
New Task Forces Hope to Address Supply Chain Challenges
Disruptions in the supply chain are very common, but until recently, they were not widely advertised because they were short-lived. Ideally, savvy supply chain managers are risk experts who use technology and strategy to respond to disruptions in a timely manner. On June 2, the Consumer Brands Association launched a new task force aimed at increasing supply chain visibility and easing supply chain pressures.
In addition, a sharp increase in retail prices has been observed across the board, as most retailers pass the increased costs of operation to customers. Against a backdrop of a spike in global food prices and calls from U.S. food industry players to shore up domestic supply chains, the Biden administration on June 8 also announced the creation of a supply chain task force as well as $4 billion in funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen and diversify the U.S. food system.
According to City A.M. reporter Hannah Godfrey, the USDA cited lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions as reasons to:
- Invest in efforts to strengthen the food system
- Create new market opportunities
- Tackle the climate crisis
- Help communities that have been left behind
- Support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain
Machine Learning Is Helping to Repair Supply Chain Issues
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been prevalent in supply chains since the late 1980s through the use of mathematical optimization, a powerful prescriptive analytics tool. AI is a problem-solving tool that uses algorithms to devise the best solution for supply chain problems.
As data increases exponentially and computer power grows, AI will become commonplace in most supply chain companies to encompass an end-to-end network or a particular component of the supply chain. Mathematical optimization continues to evolve by generating optimal, data-driven solutions to the problems supply chain managers face daily.
Managing Supply Chain Disruptions Is Critical
According to Daily Commercial News, supply chain managers are needed to handle various aspects of supply chain management, which include:
- Ensuring that project budget and expectations align with current materials costs prior to project tendering.
- Expediting project award timelines. According to Daily Commercial News, “shorter bid approval timeline means prices from subcontractors and material suppliers can be locked in at the price included in the bid.”
- Having an alternate plan for purchasing raw materials.
- Planning projects with different organizations in the subcontractor and material supply chain as early as possible.
- Ordering in advance and paying for materials on arrival.
The Entire Supply Chain Is Important
If nothing else, the past 16 months has taught us that the entire supply chain is important. Supply chain managers are critical for identifying “pinch points,” the degree to which a supply chain manager can assess what is happening at critical junctures — such as manufacturing, warehousing, or distribution operations — throughout the supply chain.
Transparency in the supply chain enables supply chain managers to better predict future costs. They can also troubleshoot future issues like sharing data, information sharing, enabling machine learning, and managing supply chain routes.
Our online master’s degree in supply chain management prepares students for future needs by focusing on purchasing, transportation, logistics, distribution, warehousing, reverse logistics and acquisitions management from a global perspective. Its leading-edge online curriculum — designed with input from industry leaders — touches on supply chain information, logistics network design, process/product flows and process improvements for supply chain efficiencies related to the global supply chain.
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