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20 March 2020 6 min read

Covid-19: Supply chain planning in a period of uncertainty

Katie Hutt

Katie Hutt
Director | Products & Services | London

There is clearly one topic occupying all of our minds at the moment, and is the subject of most of my conversations and client meetings. And how can it not be? Supply chain planning in this – out of this world – Covid-19 scenario is no mean feat. It makes Brexit planning look like a doddle!  And there is no silver bullet or magic answer, just a combination of the capabilities that we’ve already been looking to build in supply chain over the last few years – visibility, agility & open collaboration. 

There are market channels that will take a considerable hit, such as hospitality, but others that will inevitably benefit, such as online and core retail. Segmenting demand by market channel can help identify the critical “watch list” and focus resources in ensuring their supply. 

This is a point in time where sales & operations planning (S&OP) really is too slow. Quickly adjusting the long established monthly process into daily and weekly S&OE type activity is key. Having visibility of an up to date picture of demand and supply and some key facts to enable decision making will make the difference in maintaining control over the supply chain. However, this isn’t just about supply chain – commercial and financial decisions will need to be taken, and so sales and finance representation is critical.  

Now is also time to collaborate closely with customers, suppliers, and – depending on the industry you’re working in – the government. We need to bring our networks, insights and creative thinking together to face into the challenges & smooth the flow of products through the end to end supply chain, and to react quickly to each turn in the road. 

Will organisations with high end tech & analytics be at an advantage at this time? Yes. Consumer goods companies and retailers with demand-sensing capability can rely on it for daily / in-day adjustments of forecasts based on orders and demand; companies with control towers don’t need to worry about scrambling together key facts about their demand and supply situation. These are key enablers, but I don’t believe they’re the entirety of the solution. I believe that what will get FMCGs and Retailers through this storm is cross-functional and cross-business collaboration, flexibility to make quick decisions based on available information, and some adjustments to add pace to well-established supply chain routines. I heard a retail-leader talking a few weeks ago about a need to ‘collaborate our way through the challenges’. It wasn’t in relation to the coronavirus outbreak, but in my view applies perfectly to the current circumstances. I see this as the perfect opportunity for us to extend beyond the boundaries of our own networks and support each other in delivering to the consumer.   

I’d love to hear how you’ve been adapting your ways of working and your creative solutions to the current challenges.