COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on every aspect of society and business. Supply chain is no exception.
The pandemic emphasised the role of supply chain in operations, customer experience and profitability. Yet in reality, it only highlighted and accelerated existing challenges.
For years, supply chains have been getting more global and interconnected. At the same time, consumers have been given greater choice leading to higher expectations of service.
Caught in the middle is an industry that must meet these expectations within increasingly complex realities.
When COVID hit, it was a double knockout punch. Consumption shifted overnight from traditional channels to online, while global supply and demand were disrupted leading to longer lead times or fractured supply plans.
Old challenges, new urgency
The pandemic put these supply chain challenges in the spotlight. For the first time in many companies, they became a priority conversation for all levels of management, including C-level executives.
Improving operational efficiency, maintaining a safe working environment and delivering an excellent customer experience has always been a ticket to the game in supply chain.
Recently, building a sustainability plan focused on carbon footprint reduction has become a requirement. You not only have to do more with less, you have to reduce environmental impact when doing so.
The importance of customer experience under COVID has skyrocketed. Competition has always been intense. But the global change in buying habits fuelled by the pandemic has made the difference between the ones that have been able to adapt and offer alternatives like click to collect, twilight and weekend delivery options, and those who haven't been able to.
While the challenges for supply chain are constant, methods in managing them have evolved. Smart players are already adopting them and are building a competitive edge that should be sustained for years to come.
When we know better, we do better
Today, more than ever, massive amounts of data are being created. You need to be able to get your hands on the data in a timely manner, ensure it is accurate and relevant, and that it can be processed in a repeatable fashion. All with the ultimate goal to generate the data insights needed to meet the expectations of a supply chain operation in an increasingly complex environment - with close to no margin for error.
Adopting new data management methods should be a priority discussion for all supply chain decision-makers. Data has immense potential to optimise operations as it touches every part of the supply chain operation.
Technology is the key to managing data
The explosion in supply chain data has been underscored by technologies that not only help you manage operations, but can also collect data and turn it into actionable insights.
Today, we can track movable assets to reduce loss and wastage. Predict maintenance needs so you can avoid downtime. Help manage your fleet more efficiently and create a safer working environment for drivers and floor staff in your sheds.
Newer technologies hold even greater promise. Take Blockchain for example. Blockchain's digital record-keeping system can boost accountability between supply chain partners, improving provenance, traceability and even speed and efficiency of delivery.
Edge computing and 5G is also set to revolutionise the industry. Put the cloud closer to devices in the field, and you can collect and process more data, faster. Add 5G and you have more bandwidth with less latency to control supply chain operations in near real time.
In fact, technology underpins almost every innovation that's possible with your supply chain today.
Telstra's own journey
Telstra has experienced the same supply chain pain as other organisations. However, as a technology company, we were well placed to take advantage of new capabilities.
Crucially, we saw the value of technology and data as the enablers of our business objectives. In fact, in my previous role as Telstra’s Supply Chain Executive, I spent most of my time modernising the technology stack and our ability to use data. My focus was to future-proof our operations, reduce costs, improve productivity, and help us deliver a better customer experience through better insights.
Start small, think big
From our experience, making large scale changes to your supply chain is not the way to go. Too much time, expense and risk is involved.
We favour a step-by-step approach. Look at the big picture and assess where you want to be in one year, five years and ten years. Leverage what you have now, and decide what you can add that will deliver fast results.
Then you can build incrementally over time, making sure that technology and data improvements are a priority.
As a vendor of supply chain solutions, we also learned that a focus on industry, not just individual customers, is best. With an industry-wide approach, we can offer tried and tested solutions tailored to specific industry situations.
Better still, our solutions are modular. This gives our customers flexibility to start where they want and move at their own pace.
It's been said that the time to think about improving supply chain was yesterday. To a certain extent that's true. But if you start small and use a staged approach, you can gain immediate efficiencies and extend them over time. Importantly, it's never too late to start.