Once in a lifetime opportunity
Last time a significant impact on supply chain continuity occurred during the 2008 financial crisis due to a historic drop in consumption, today we are facing the opposite where supply struggles to cope with an increasing demand which is draining stock of goods, clogging ports, routes and thinning resources required to keep service levels. If this is not a chance to redesign from scratch, I do not know what it is.
From staple food to chips there is a widespread effect in global and domestic supply chains, and they start to look like wrinkles in a usually smooth flow of goods, services, and money along the commerce network. If one component of the system, say consumption, starts spinning at a higher revolution response will be compromised in any other remaining element such as production, handling, or transportation, meaning that the capacity of that system has plateaued out thanks to a limiting factor. We as engineers design with capacities in mind, which is to say that there are no such thing as unlimited resources to enjoy, even if it is advertised as an all you can eat buffet. Eventually something will cede, namely truck drivers, port slots, reposition speed, availability or simply skills.
If the reaction is to reinforce the scanty component, for instance hire more people, the solution will be partial and perhaps not sustainable. Today a statement from the White House refers to supply chain challenges from this unprecedented economic recovery and mention steps to build long-term supply chain reliance for the future. One of them is to expand operating port hours on the US West Coast which leaves open the question about next event, fortunately other steps will be taken to continue building supply chain resilience such as a summit to build greater global supply chain resilience.
The scenario of idle factories waiting on chips to resume production or empty shelves in supermarkets looks like an opportunity to explore alternatives to current process. Are you or your team too busy dealing with the emergency? The question is what is your limiting factor, infrastructure, resources, or skills? You may be surprised to find out that knowledge could solve the problem in an innovative, smarter way, and more importantly, doing it sustainably.
If the approach is a proactive one, it may start with the technical debt acknowledgement — the gap from proven technology in the market and the available one in your company — and continue with assessing expertise gaps in the team preventing adoption of data or technology intensive solutions involving predictive scenarios. Did I mention prescriptive?
Are you still looking to fill your vacancies?