The critical importance of supply chain continuity

By Craig Summers, UK MD of Manhattan Associates.

It’s times like these that we realise the interconnectivity and interdependency that exists in our world. As COVID-19 continues to impact economies, businesses and individuals across the globe, the role and continuity of supply chains has never been more important than it is today.

From making sure supermarkets are stocked with essential life-sustaining items and ensuring online orders are delivered promptly to those who are vulnerable or are sheltering in place, the current environment underscores how essential 21st century supply chains are to our lives. The resilience and responsiveness of the supply chain are also on display as it continues to enable the flow of critical supplies to our communities.  

We generally reference the supply chain as a singular entity, but that entity is made up of many different parts and a large human workforce. Like our healthcare heroes, the supply chain workforce – from the assembly-line person to the picker and the delivery driver – is also on the frontlines working to help keep life and commerce moving forward in these challenging times.  

Even before the pandemic, distribution centers (DCs) were performing a balancing act with an already shrinking talent pool to deliver goods to destinations in a timely fashion. When you constrain the labour pool further with country-wide lockdowns, self-isolating measures and social distancing, you can see the daunting challenges currently facing supply chains.  

Despite these challenges, our society has never had a bigger need for our supply chains, the technology that underpins them, and the people that make them work. As businesses, workforces and consumers prepare to face the impacts of sheltering in place measures, the need to replenish shelves with lifesaving and life-sustaining items is paramount.  

In response to the spike in demand caused by the global pandemic, retailers and ecommerce companies are ramping up their warehouse and distribution network staffing numbers while other DCs are driving their warehouse management technology to assess inventory, predict peaks and coordinate employee shift rotations to keep supply their chains moving. 

We are also seeing retailers shift inventory and resources across channels. For example, because of the multifold increase in ecommerce orders, retailers are making more of their store inventory available online for purchase. With the increase in store closures, a number of these retailers are shifting their store associates to fulfill online orders. 

Beyond the premium being placed on restocking hand sanitiser and toilet paper currently, there is a serious message here – continuity of the supply chain is essential to maintaining some semblance of normalcy during this pandemic. The world is now seeing the creativity, ingenuity and dedication of this key industry. We are seeing some very creative and heroic stories of companies that are overcoming unprecedented levels of demand to get these critical items into the right hands.

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