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Oct. 1, 2020

Faculty Voice: Advice for supply chain leadership to emerge from COVID-19

Yemisi Bolumole examines the way supply chain leaders reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can move forward.

Yemisi Bolumole is an associate professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management in the Broad College of Business. This is repurposed content from her five-part series for Supply Chain Management Review.

Accepting the painful reality that a crisis is a bad thing to waste, I wrote a series of articles examining what the supply chain community could have done better and how managers can carve a path forward for their organizations

Leading the way forward through COVID

Coming off 10 years of economic prosperity, the fact that the pandemic caught supply chain managers off guard comes as little surprise. It not only created a health crisis, but also cascading supply chain effects impacting daily life for individuals, organizations, and associations.

As a logistician, I’ve always viewed the supply chain industry as the “ultimate connector,” one that is standing by and ready to respond during normal and exceptional times. By leveraging increased awareness of supply chain management for the everyday consumer and reprising the role of government and public policy to support private sector activity, I believe we can and will do better next time.

Working together with external groups more cohesively, we can emerge from this crisis with a renewed sense of purpose centered on leading the way for improved economic and social welfare — and ultimately supporting the broader betterment of society.

Supply chain’s role in minimizing food insecurity

Food insecurities can emerge at different points along the supply chain and we have to be ready to respond at each stage. With COVID, the issue wasn’t the absence of food in the supply chain; it was a baffling simultaneous combination: the disconnect between supply and demand led to a lot of food waste at certain points, and massive food insecurities in others.

Let’s set an example for the upcoming generation of supply chain professionals about the expanded value we offer — making social welfare a focal point in their education, work and lives. We can partner with government agencies to create a slate of mandated emergency logistics and transportation inventory and assets. Going forward, these can be “called up” and deployed through government-business engagements during times of crisis.

Made in the US: It’s not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition

It didn’t take long for the global pandemic to become a lightning rod for bringing manufacturing activities back to the U.S. However, consumers are only willing and able to pay so much for products, even when their heart wants to support a “Made in America” initiative. What we need now — more than ever — is renewed recognition of the critical relationship between supply chain resiliency and offshoring, and an extension of the reshoring costs conversation to include a “cost of disruption” when making decisions on the location of supply sources.

Thanks to COVID-19, we now have a government that’s more appreciative of supply chain management, and is investing in restoring the private sector; let’s take advantage of this opportunity and tell them just how to do it.

Don’t believe the hype: A call for responsible supply chain analytics

If you’ve looked at the news headlines lately, you’ve probably seen an abundance of reports, charts and individual opinions about the global pandemic and its near- and far-reaching economic impacts. Pummeled by data, supply chain managers must decide which points deserve further assessment and which should just be ignored. We are challenged to learn how to gather data, clean it up, assess it, extract certain points from it, and then make accurate conclusions based on that information.

Taking results at face value can be misleading and sometimes dangerous particularly as data proliferates at unprecedented rates. Investigate the source of the data and don’t be afraid to question it. Understanding data flaws and potential weaknesses is also essential. And finally, look beyond the provided visualizations. Snazzy charts are cool and all, but what’s the story that should be taken from this data?

2020: The year of the logistician

Vital by nature, but largely working behind the scenes, logisticians keep the delivery machine running even when a global pandemic takes its toll on human life, livelihoods, organizations and world economies. Drivers, warehouse workers, and order takers went to work while most of us had to stay home. If you consider what the world’s delivery channels would have looked like without these people, the situation looks pretty dire.

It’s been an exhausting year for sure, but this industry keeps rolling along. To all logisticians working around the globe, we want to say thank you for keeping our critical supply chains in motion during one of the most difficult times in our world’s history.

By: Yemisi Bolumole

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