When the novel coronavirus first hit China in late 2019 and early 2020, it didn't take long for the effects to be felt around the world. Global supply chains relied heavily on production in China to power their fast and easy access to all kinds of products, and the ripple effects of those first slowdowns are, to some extent, still felt in the industry. However, the companies that were able to weather the storm most effectively also tended to be the ones that had access to data at the time.

Certainly, since the pandemic really gripped the global economy - not just supply chains - more businesses have seen the importance of digitizing their various processes, but for some it was a bit late to truly avoid a serious impact, according to the MIT Sloan Management Review. As a general rule, the insight companies had into their supply chain partners' various operations helped them plan for whatever issues arose, but even those who thought they had great contingencies in place quickly found they weren't on the solid ground they thought.

Sharing data in the cloud can be a big help to entire supply chains.Sharing data in the cloud can be a big help to entire supply chains.

"Honestly, we didn't know how little we knew about our key suppliers until COVID-19 occurred," one supply chain executive based in Latin America told the publication. "We had to get all kinds of [new] information from them and - to make [our] factories work - we had to give them information we never had before."

That realization shifted a lot of change in a short period of time, turning digitization efforts that previously took years into a process that ramped up in a matter of months, the report said.

Where the cloud comes in
With so many companies now hustling to collect, interpret and share more data than ever before, the need to disseminate information quickly is pressing, and that's why the cloud has become such an important weapon in any supply chain company's arsenal, according to Antonio Gulli, engineering director at the office of the CTO for Google Cloud. Writing for Forbes, Gulli noted that companies in just about every industry now face the twin issues of seeing their supply chains strained and that even previously digitized processes just weren't equipped for the pandemic.

How can companies bounce back? Using the data they and their partners collect to game-plan for various predictable obstacles and find effective solutions virtually could be critical, Gulli wrote. That way, they don't have to risk real-world breakdowns but they can see how their own systems would react in certain situations, and smooth over any inefficiencies they encounter.

Why forecasting is critical
That ability to make estimates of how any given company in a given supply chain would react to a hiccup can allow for many businesses to simultaneously fall back to a contingency plan, effectively sidestepping many problems, according to Supply Chain Digital. Being able to forecast demand and see problems coming before they arise is a critical part of that. With even basic forecasting measures in place, enabled through the cloud, companies may be able to react positively in most cases and remain on stable footing.

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