Hurricane Katrina Stopped Gulf Fish Deliveries: Could Your Business Survive Such a Disaster?
Many of us responsible for the smooth functioning of our company’s supply chain view
risks mostly as they relate to shipments in progress. However, the risks to our supply chains and logistics functions can take many forms. Many are beyond our control such as interruptions created by weather, natural disasters, political unrest and labor problems.
Others risks, however, are more directly related to the business cycle, and though less frequent, they too are significant. These include unexpected increases in demand, economic crisis or business failure of one or more market participants or suppliers.
How to Plan for Supply Chain Risk
Planning during or just before an interruption occurs is often a futile exercise. Effective planning takes place before interruptions occur, and is a specific and analytical process that creates protocols which prepare your company for all types of disruptions.
Include the Best People in The Planning Process
When exploring risks to the supply chain, and the appropriate responses, make sure to include your most relevant personnel in the process. This means involving not only senior executives but also capable operational staff as well. Senior management has a strategic overview but may not have operational insights that are relevant to the daily operations of the business. Those responsible for day-to-day operations have their finger on your company’s pulse and are the stakeholders within your organization most directly impacted by work disruptions. Consider warehouse managers, customer service managers, manufacturing shift leaders and the like as their views help bridge the chasm between theoretical planning for disasters and the real tasks the company faces in working around the problems that disasters create.
Assess Risk & Prepare a Process
Preparation is the key to withstanding the pressures imposed by a supply chain disruption. The first step in being prepared is to establish a periodic review process that examines a company’s supply chain in depth and identifies potential weaknesses and threats. Think of this as a SWOT analysis for your supply chain.
Key items to consider include assessment of raw materials and inputs that are needed for production, identification of key suppliers and vendors and – from a logistics perspective – ports/airports of origin and destination.
The importance of a specific, analytical and detailed overview is critical at this stage of your planning. Here is an example of why –
In normal times sales and profitability data show that a customer in Japan places large, high yielding but sporadic orders for your product. This type of customer draws the attention of personnel at various levels of the organization and is likely to have high priority even in a supply chain disruption review process. However, easily overlooked in the planning process is a smaller, perhaps less profitable but frequent customer in Hong Kong. In the event of a supply chain disruption it would be prudent to have plans to continue support for the smaller customer from Hong Kong. While the Japanese customer is of greater value in normal times, it is the smaller customer in Hong Kong who relies on your product on a regular basis, and also one who orders (and hence pays) with greater frequency. Being prepared to continue supplying such a customer will likely avoid hidden costs of disruptions such as decreased cash flow while also ensuring an enduring relationship with a regular customer.
Develop Alternative Service Providers
On time delivery is critical to those you supply and worth the premium your company pays for direct delivery services. Nevertheless, there is a need for developing relationships with 2nd and 3rd tier service providers who can offer alternative transit choices.
Assume that your company receives an important raw material from an overseas supplier. The cargo is normally imported by ocean through the port of Long Beach, California. However, due to an earthquake traffic to the port has been disrupted. An advance plan for this scenario would include an ocean rate contract that includes service to the ports of Oakland and Tacoma. Typically the same vessel calls on all three ports and for very little price difference, hence most steamship lines will often readily add these ports to a service contract. Furthermore, adding these destination ports into your contracts with a steamship line during normal conditions can save your company from the additional costs likely to be imposed by negotiating during an emergency when demand at nearby ports is likely to surge. Use of alternate ports may increase the cost of domestic transport to your factories and distribution centers; however, keeping your brand on the shelf and in the consumer’s eye is well worth it.
Collaborate With Your Freight Forwarders and Other Third Party Logistic Providers
If you do not include these groups in your planning process you are increasing the risk of your plan’s failure. While your plan may call for a freight forwarder to warehouse extra finished goods inventory in advance of a supplier’s strike, failure to include them in the planning process, and failure to update them on the likelihood of the strike will most likely cause the plan to fail as the freight forwarder would be in a reactive position without a complementary plan in place to support your company’s emergency plan.
One good solution is to form a crisis management task force that includes all the stakeholders in the supply chain. Since disruptions sometimes develop a life of their own, activate the task force members directly involved in any situation and keep others informed. If disruptions spread, other members join without the need for playing catchup.
Involving business partners in your planning works well. Under certain circumstances logistics service providers can allow for shared access to raw material and inventory systems providing all stakeholders with simultaneous updates on the flow of goods and materials.
This process is gaining popularity in the supply chain industry and is often called the “control tower” approach to managing the supply chain. Cloud computing has allowed smaller service providers the same abilities that were once the domain solely of global service providers and hence allows even small logistics providers to play a vital and leading role in a large supply chain.
Large Company Advantage
Companies having several layers of suppliers and transporters and sub-contractors are fortunate. They can work with them to develop advanced predictive models that may even have statistical foundations. The statistical models serve the same function as flight simulators for pilots and show how a number of events impact the supply chain and company operations and how well decisions from the crisis management team work to lessen or eliminate incident impact.
The task of preparing the supply chain for disruption is doable and critical to your company’s success. It is important to keep in mind that while you are far from a port that is earthquake prone, for example, your suppliers may use it to get products to you. Carefully analyze every step of your supply chain, identify weaknesses and ways to overcome them. Check your emergency plans annually and partner in this effort with your logistics vendors.