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Supply chain resiliency

Will coronavirus disruptions prompt a new focus on supply chain risk and resiliency for business?

Photo of a warehouse.

A video interview with a global supply chain expert conducted by Sytske Wijnsma, a PhD candidate at Cambridge Judge Business School, was utilised in a recent Executive MBA class on Operations Management at Cambridge Judge.

Photo of Sytske Wijnsma.
Sytske Wijnsma

Dr Anne Robinson, a past president of INFORMS (the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences), said in the interview with Sytske that disruptions owing to coronavirus will prompt a new focus on supply chain risk and resiliency at companies around the world.

“The reliance on traditional forecasting is going to shift because there’s an acknowledgement that what got us here won’t get us there – that the past is not a good indicator of the future,” said Dr Robinson, whose interview was used as supporting material for two EMBA classes totalling 120 participants.

“So focusing on better planning, agile planning, the ability to change your plans quickly will be very, very important. And I think the conversations between CEOs and chief supply chain officers are going to be around risk, resiliency and robustness of the supply chain.”

Photo of Dr Anne Robinson of INFORMS.
Dr Anne Robinson

A native of Newfoundland in Canada, Anne is currently chief strategy officer of Canada-based software firm Kinaxis. She is a former top executive at telecoms company Verizon and networking firm Cisco Systems and is Founding Editor of INFORMS Editor’s Cut, a curated collection of industry-focused innovations and applications for operations research and advanced analytics.

Anne said the coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity for companies, post crisis, to leverage their supply chains to reestablish brand loyalty among customers as such loyalty has been replaced in recent years by speed of delivery.

“As Dr Robinson stressed in the interview that transparency between companies and customers about supply chains is crucial for recovery after the coronavirus crisis subsides, as well as for the prevention of future disruptions” said Sytske, who is doing research in Sustainable Operations at Cambridge Judge.

Feryal Erhun
Professor Feryal Erhun

The video interview was used in an EMBA class conducted by Feryal Erhun, Professor of Operations & Technology Management at Cambridge Judge.

“It was really useful for students to get the perspective of an expert who deals with these issues on a real-time basis in the middle of this unprecedented coronavirus situation,” said Professor Erhun. “This was also a very good example of how technology can provide new opportunities to enhance the learning experience by drawing on experts from around the world.”

Dr Robinson identified three key challenges for the supply chain sector:

“Data has always been a challenge across the supply chain – really understanding what the data is, what the quality of it is, what the completeness of it is. You need to step in and start using that data and understanding the dynamics of the supply chain – that’s where you’ll figure out where there are some challenges, and where the opportunities lie.”

“The second challenge is planning: as the supply chain has matured and become a much more strategic entity we’ve seen velocity of supply chains increase, and we see the complexity increase.” So it’s important to look at supply chains “holistically as compared to considering one function versus another function”.

“The third challenge that I hear from every customer is around talent: because of the other two issues, data and understanding the full supply chain dynamics, the supply chain professional of today is very different than the supply chain practitioner of the past. You need to understand the math, you need to understand the product, and you’ve got to have the business skills to influence change communications.”

During the coronavirus crisis, Dr Robinson said it’s important to be able to use live data to make quick adjustments in supply chains. “Every day is a challenge – you don’t know what’s going to happen as a supply line is shut down, or you are missing products, for example. The increase we have seen in our customer base using scenario planning has gone through the roof, and that has increased exponentially as we continue in this crisis.”

Anne predicts a move toward more agile planning and a greater emphasis on risk resiliency and a robust supply chain as critical to a firm’s success. Chief Supply Chain Officers will be getting their seat at the executive table because supply chains can truly inform company strategy.