How businesses can play their part in creating a sovereign supply chain

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By Kit Kyte, CEO, Checkit.

Not since the days of the industrial revolution has manufacturing and logistics had such a prominent role in our national psyche. In an era of digital dependence, it’s even been lauded as a key pillar of our post-brexit sovereignty strategy and post-pandemic economic recovery.

So, what does this mean for the sector that simultaneously needs to become increasingly sovereign, sustainable and something that resembles the ‘build back better’ mantra of the government?

Fundamental to national ambition

Fundamentally, we’re not going from a standing start. According to SMMT, the success of the UK’s manufacturing sector will be central to the Government's ability to deliver on its national ambitions to level up the whole country, reach Net Zero by 2050 and become a global science super-power. Similarly, any notion of a post-Brexit desertion of international manufacturing has been waylaid, if not rebutted entirely. For evidence, look no further than the plans to build a £ 2.5bn automotive battery production facility near Coventry.

We also have support from within. The government announced a £53m ($73.78m) injection into the sector through the Made Smarter programme in July while several measures were put in place in last month's budget. Much to the cautious delight of senior figures in manufacturing and logistics.

Businesses are in the dark

But hitting these lofty ambitions will take more than a bit of cash. Businesses within the sector must play their role too. And they can start by addressing the inefficient, costly and time-consuming processes their organisations are almost certainly heavily impacted by. These are the everyday issues that businesses do not possess the capacity to examine, understand and act upon. 

Think of failing fridges and freezers that are consuming vast amounts of energy just to stay switched on. The problem often goes unnoticed and unrectified. Some organisations will send engineers across vast distances to take a look at what might actually be a simple fix. In other cases, the issue might have been ignored for so long it’s become impossible to repair. When you put it all together, you see staggering levels of inefficiency.

The challenge for leaders in this sector is that they are managing a vast ecosystem of people and processes, spread across multiple locations and time zones. In many cases, reporting methods are outdated, creating knowledge gaps that leave organisations vulnerable to risk and unable to see opportunities for innovation - something known as ‘dark operations’. While the macro economic issues are beyond the control of businesses, this information and knowledge is well within their capabilities and was a problem long before the pandemic. It’s just that the re-starting of the world’s economy has shone a spotlight on the need to bring the dark into the light.

Black holes creating missed opportunities

It's not the fault of the 2.7b deskless workers trying to deliver on the ground. They are digitally disconnected. They use pen-and-paper checklists, disparate spreadsheets and siloed legacy systems. These practices create black holes of insight and control, leaving businesses blind to risks and in danger of missing opportunities. Little wonder that the majority of them feel disillusioned, inadequately trained and deprived of the user-friendly technology that already augments their personal lives, clearly evidenced by the labour crisis we are facing.

Leaders need to be able to see what's working and what's not — not in the next set of monthly reports but right now. Real-time management visibility is vital. The key questions (who, what, where, when and how) can be answered if you make it easy for employees to log their activity and you leverage sensor networks for continuous monitoring. Businesses must capture front-line activity — not with paperwork that's damaged, lost, late or falsified but with digital tools that not only capture but also augment and add value to employees.

Empower the deskless

Outdated practices that stand in the way of information sharing at the necessary scale and pace of today’s operations will need to be replaced with a new mindset that focuses on continuous improvement. Resilience and agility are the two qualities that will characterise successful manufacturing and logistics businesses in the future. We’ve seen how fragile and interconnected they are so why would a business - any business - not want to try and identify and mitigate an issue before it arose?

Measuring footfall, location and task completion rates will enrich the data the supply chain is already getting, driving more meaningful insight into demand patterns and availability. Applying data analytics to the workforce will uncover hidden inefficiencies – duplicated tasks, paperwork that takes hours out of every day, lost or misdirected stock, employee churn that diverts productive hours into onboarding and training, obligations that are dropped during shift handovers. At the moment, it’s happening beyond the view of most managers.

To realise this vision, leaders need the ability to identify and address areas of weakness. They need closer engagement with the deskless workers who are so crucial to effective operations. They need to coordinate resources efficiently by liberating people from administrative tasks that don’t add value. They need accurate data to prove standards and SLAs are being met consistently in order to strengthen the confidence of customers, regulators and employees. Moving forward, supply chain leaders will look to augment their workforces with digital capabilities, ensuring they can adapt more quickly to global economic forces and other forms of disruption. Soon we'll see frontline people equipped with mobile apps that serve as digital assistants – guiding and capturing their activity in real-time, enabling collaboration and generating much-needed management insight.  

Made in Britain

If this sector is to realise its potential and play the role we all know it is capable of in our national recovery, then identifying and addressing the challenges within the dark operations is fundamental. This will have more impact than any amount of government investment could ever have and will, ultimately, make us all proud to once more claim that something is ‘made in Britain’.

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