Strategic Supply Chain Planning 2021 | Beyond COVID

January 19, 2021

5 min read

RESOURCES // BLOG

The epidemic crisis of 2020 accelerated many trends in consumer behavior. It exposed risks both on the supply and demand sides of the supply chain. As we begin supply chain planning in 2021, we realize the adopted behaviors are permanent. Companies have to be able to support multiple fulfillment channels, efficiently handle returns and insulate themselves from regional disruptions across the globe.

Companies are looking at diversifying their supply sources. Whether this means on-shoring, near-shoring or simply adding alternative regions to the existing base. This is not a quick proposition. Suppliers have to be located, certified and tested. Order patterns have to be established and inventory policies implemented. All of this takes data, analysts and time. Perhaps the most difficult part, managing change in your supply chain planning.

Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor or retailer you have to be able to support more direct consumer channels than you may have traditionally. This will involve better collaboration, inventory management and alternative fulfillment and transportation options. Again, this requires data, analysts and change management.

The companies that will lead the pack are the ones that recognize the permanency of the COVID changes on the horizon and establish long-term supply chain strategies to mitigate risk and guarantee products and service to the end customer.

Planning for Supply Chain Flex is Paramount

An exponential boom in e-commerce sales rapidly created significant congestion for last mile deliveries. The effect spilled across the entire supply chain. At distribution and fulfillment centers some shippers saw their small packages go unshipped due to volume caps implemented by parcel carriers. Elsewhere, LTL carriers facing heightened shipment volumes at their terminals delivered fluctuating service levels.

As a result, many companies examined how they complete final deliveries to their clients, a process that retail giants like Amazon have nearly mastered. More and more companies are shifting toward expedited service from either existing brick-and-mortar facilities or an adjusted network of distribution centers. Smaller, urban fulfillment centers added in certain areas can help skirt site-specific volume limits. More options make you less susceptible to geography-based capacity constraints.

But you must understand how those changes in network design affect cost and service performance. 

Through its ability to evolve a massive local network, Amazon proved to be among the most reliable carriers during the disruptions of 2020. Not everyone has the deep pockets to establish an Amazon-like network with large distribution centers and cross-dock strategies. 

However, you can determine where you can compete with that sprawling service network – and where you cannot. SKU rationalization, margin analysis of different channels and overall network design analysis can help businesses of any size understand where growth is occurring and where it is not. From there you can align your supply chain planning based on the demand patterns your business is experiencing.

Look Upstream to Determine Opportunity

With everything happening in the supply chain environment, it is important to get outside of your business and examine your network upstream to your suppliers. This provides insight in several important areas. 

Over the past 20 years companies have worked to reduce and remove inventory where possible, achieving the absolute least cost in the process. Today, you must balance inventory, determine which inventory is right, and even decide the right customers to serve. Understanding your processes, as well as those of your partners is integral to transportation cost management.

When your retail partner asks you to drop ship product to their customers, can you segment your inventory into the different physical channels to both serve those individual orders and continue filling regular store-level inventory needs?

How should your inventory model change as you move toward insourcing or reshoring? With longer lead times and growing landed costs emerging from foreign vendors, local suppliers allow you to manage a smaller inventory or direct ship to customers and, ultimately lower overall cost. Do you have the contingencies in place across your network of vendor partners to deploy local or regional sourcing in the event of ongoing disruption in Asia?

By stepping outside your own walls and understanding processes upstream and downstream – as well as their alternatives – you become a stronger partner, especially if you can offer your suppliers visibility into your own demand. Ultimately, that level of collaboration helps your partners plan better, improving efficiency and service to you in the process.

By helping customers understand their total value stream and deploying a lean-minded supply chain strategy consultation, we help them visualize how changes to their network can improve cost and service across their transportation environment.

Capacity for Change can Limit Improvement

Achieving flexibility in your supply chain requires both an ability to recognize when processes are not performing and a willingness to apply change. If you don’t change, nothing changes, and it became especially clear in 2020 that a lot of companies don’t know how to implement that change. 

Leadership has to want to change and improve, and it is important to understand that if you are not constantly problem-solving then you are going backwards. Smaller companies understand this especially well, but larger companies are often separated into silos and metrics conflict with day-to-day activity.

Are you willing to let your partners save you from yourself? If leadership is not willing to accept analysis and insight that supports change, then activity rarely changes until crisis occurs. And when that crisis occurs, without analysis to support process improvement, you may not be able to determine the right practices to change.

Performing that analysis is no easy task. A lot of smaller companies don’t have the skillsets or capacity to complete that data-driven look. Likewise, medium and large companies may dedicate people to monitor performance in different supply chain areas. They may not have the groups of people capable of not only understanding how to complete the analysis, but also problem solve. 

That is where Transportation Insight helps. We not only have the capacity to complete analysis of SKU-level performance, network design and alternative, contingency supply chain strategies. Importantly, we also teach your teams how problem solve, a skill that you can then pass along to others in the organization.   

Once we deploy a problem-solving mindset alongside analysis of your supply chain data, we can create a map of the transportation activities across your network and determine options for alleviating problem points that drive up your cost. By pairing those continuous improvement efforts with renewed network flexibility that eliminates the risk of disruption, Transportation Insight positions you for improved cost control and enhanced opportunities for growth. 

For more insight that will help support your supply chain strategy in 2021, download our latest industry forecast. Read the First Quarter ChainLink 2021 for a multi-modal look at the transportation trends that will affect your business in the year ahead.

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