While an outbreak of a new pandemic virus had been long expected, the rapid spread of COVID-19 globally – from December 2019 – still caught the world unawares. This Black Swan event grounded international travel, possibly for years, battered a struggling retail sector and forced governments worldwide to increase their debt to ratios unseen since the Second World War.
Global supply chains which, over the last twenty years, have become more diversified and leaner, have been hit hard by COVID-19 and are likely to require significant change and realignment across a number of areas if they are to succeed.
Resilience and regulatory compliance
While many supply chains were able to respond effectively to challenges caused by lockdowns, building long term resilience needs a bit more work. Supply chains might even need to be restructured altogether.
Whilst resilience in supply chains is usually thought of as an operational issue, in the future there is likely to be a greater emphasis on its strategic impact. Many pharmaceutical and manufacturing organisations are reliant on chemicals and natural resources provided by international markets, such as China. And it’s not just supplies – we are reliant on these markets for human resources too, factories and workers that are able to manufacture products more cheaply than we are able to in the West. COVID-19 might change this dynamic permanently and might mean supply chains need to establish new production and sourcing models closer to home.
As with the 2008 Credit Crunch, regulators and governments are likely to look more aggressively at how supply chains address the issue of resilience at a strategic level. As the cost of lockdown is quantified and economic damage is assessed, there could well be pressure to re-shore activity within the pharmaceutical manufacturing space to create and support local jobs.
Additionally, there may be a need for supply chains to maintain resilience in a quantifiable way, including KPIs on stock levels or lower risk providers of materials. Longer term this will have a major impact on firms who have sought to benefit from the cost arbitrage of outsourcing.
Data management and analytics
Data management and analytics have always been a critical element in the effective delivery and maintenance of complex supply chains. Even before COVID-19, there was a growing recognition that the use of large and complex data sets to manage demand planning, or the tracking and tracing of cold chain products through control towers was the major driver of cost management and quality in supply chains.
As COVID-19 swept the globe, supply chains were severely impacted as consumers required the delivery of medicines to private homes rather than medical centres. This was further impacted by market and country-based closures (within the US there remain different rules by individual state) that have required a significant re-imagination of supply chain data management. These – and other changes – have led to a significant growth in the volume of data sets that are required to understand the impacts to the supply chain.
These effects have been amplified by other issues in the supply chain data world, including the growing volume of available data – data that is held internally by firms and also data that is more widely available. Complexity increases due to the fact that supply chains are no longer owned by a single organisation and also the growing volume of brokerage points within a supply chain process – as a result, an element of data fatigue has set in amongst those in the data processing field.
Supply planning and demand forecasting
COVID-19 has served to highlight the well-known supply chain effect of the ‘bullwhip’. As new spread of the virus and lockdowns loomed, panic-buying set in amongst consumers, particularly in Europe and North America. As a result of this panic buying, there was an amplification in upstream demand as attempts were made to restock shelves, which resulted in greater movement at the tail of the bullwhip. Historically, the major purpose of supply and demand management has been to ‘flatten the curve’ of the bullwhip, but COVID-19 has made this impossible to achieve in the short term.
The new normal is likely to see significant changes in demand patterns for all kinds of products, from food to medicines and from raw materials to industrial consumables including fuels. There will be greater demand for home-based activities and consumption (including bulk purchasing of dry foodstuffs), delivery of medicines and broader treatments to vulnerable people in their homes. All of this will be widely impacted by national and regional variations, influenced by the weather and other types of seasonality. The longer-term forecasting of demand will be challenging for all sectors as the world moves from ‘Just in Time’ to ‘Just in Case’.
Prioritisation of change
Many transformation activities within supply chain organisations consist of multi-year and large-scale centralised change programmes. These programmes of work, often focused on the longer-term reduction of inventory, deployment of ERP solutions or optimisation of warehouse networks will no longer meet the far more rapid evolution of change driven by COVID-19. Organisational and supply chain change management will need to recognise that markets rather than regions will now dictate supply chain management, as localised outbreaks and waves of COVID-19 dictate local consumer behaviour and demand.
If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you with your transformation project in the life sciences sector, please call me on +44 (0) 7813 900 337 or email [email protected]