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Three digitalization strategies that help supply chain resilience

Merilee Kern looks at common supply chain risks and how three specific digital strategies can help build your organization’s supply chain resilience.

With the considerable supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic and amid escalating inflation, supply chain resilience is more critical than ever before. The pandemic presented a range of challenges that many supply chains were clearly unprepared for. Workforce shortages, shipping cost surges, and new patterns of production and consumption have all played a key role in disrupting business logistics; upending markets, industries and whole economies in the process. In its wake are logistics, procurement, and other supply chain professionals who continue to suffer stress and chaos on the front line, scrambling to react to newly exposed systemic weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

“In order to prepare against unforeseen and inevitable turbulent events ahead, it’s important to take proactive measures to identify the most inherently fragile areas within a supply chain,” urges Nirav Patel, CEO of Bristlecone - a provider of connected logistics solutions that’s part of the $19 Billion dollar Mahindra Group. “In this post-pandemic era, we need to challenge conventional thinking and pursue digital innovation on a much larger and more significant scale. Embracing emerging technologies like AI and SAP integration can transform and fortify companies with an appropriate level of resilience and agility to defend against future crises and unforeseen challenges.”

Three common risks to the supply chain 

While there are numerous reasons why supply chains are disrupted, there are a few prime culprits:

  • Environmental forces: external factors, such as natural disasters, economic turmoil, and geopolitical instability impact supply chain performance in numerous ways: like damaged transport infrastructure, canceled deliveries, and demolished inventory - all of which can lead to unbalanced supply and demand.
  • Value chain disruptions: issues within the value chain, the process starting from businesses receiving raw material to then selling the finished product to consumers, can create a bullwhip effect where small fluctuations in initial operations can lead to even greater negative effects across the entire supply chain. Value chain triggers include workforce disputes, limited supplier cash flow, manufacturing accidents and so on. 
  • Business operation challenges: when troubles arise internally within key areas of the business, like breaches in the finance, IT or HR divisions, core operations will struggle to function and that will impede the company at large.

As supply chain threats like these and others remain omnipresent - with regional, national and global implications - it has become an imperative for organizations to employ digital tools for enhanced automation, visibility and resilience. Here are three digital strategies leaders can implement to do so:    

  • Supply chain digital twins: digital twins are digital replicas of physical supply chains. They integrate with the company’s systems to provide real-time insights into any sudden disruptions in a supply chain's performance level, allowing supply chain management to become more proactive than reactive. Digital twins help companies mitigate risks by identifying external forces that can harm the supply chain's efficiency. This simulation provides an additional level of visibility that would otherwise be impossible without leveraging technology. 
  • Predictive maintenance: this is a preventative technique that uses machine learning technologies and sensors to track how machines and systems are functioning. Predictive maintenance is able to foresee when a machine is likely to develop issues in the near future so that maintenance can be done before any breakdowns. Supply chain operations become more resilient knowing that all machines and robotics are working efficiently. 
  • Tracking: today’s supply chain management companies live in a fortunate time where they can collect real-time updates on current events courtesy of the Internet and other technologies. Companies can leverage social media to obtain consumer behavior analytics while also monitoring the industry, news, and other sources that can indicate potential supply chain disruptions like the passing of a new regulation. Logistics and transportation technologies provide powerful modern digital fleet tracking so that companies can track their shipments and fleets across land and sea, all over the world. Analytics from cloud-based and other technologies provide valuable insights on - and can fiscally quantify - things like employee engagement and productivity. This data is direct feedback that supply chain managers can leverage to assess what leadership tactics are effective and which fail to drive workforce benchmarks.

 Mitigating avoidable business risk by proactively transforming and shoring up supply chains with digital technologies and methodologies like these is a trend forecasted to persist over the next few years. Gartner predicts that “by 2026, more than 75% of commercial supply chain management application vendors will deliver embedded advanced analytics (AA), artificial intelligence (AI) and data science.”  A McKinsey survey also cited that more than 90 percent of respondents reported they have invested in digital supply chain technologies in the last year.

Digital transformation is already reinventing the modern supply chain across sectors as technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, lnternet of Things and blockchain integrations grow.  These nextgen digital deployments are offering innovative ways for supply chain professionals to procure highly accurate, up-to-the-minute data - the kind that creates opportunities for companies to predict and aptly react to macro and micro conditions, mitigate risks, and, at the most extreme level, thwart a business busting disaster.

“Supply chains are complex and disruption is becoming the norm,” Patel says. “Businesses must be able to operate seamlessly within their ecosystem of functional teams, partners, logistics providers, customers and other stakeholders, and work together to navigate and mitigate supply chain risk - all while improving customer experience. Establishing multi-tiered digitalization replete with data aggregation, information exchange, collaboration, risk management, AI-powered analytics, and robust cloud technologies can shore up a supply chain with unprecedented speed, visibility, synergy and control. It’s a mission critical way to maintain the kind of resiliency that will demonstrate - and protect - business value.”

The author

Merilee Kern, MBA is a branding, leadership, and communications analyst and strategist who works with companies, agencies, C-suite thought leaders and subject matter experts worldwide. Merilee is also Founder, Executive Editor and Producer of The Luxe List and is host of both the Savvy Ventures business TV show that airs on FOX Business TV and Bloomberg TV and the Savvy Living lifestyle TV show.

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