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When all we wanted was a “return to normal”, nothing felt less normal than previously- routine grocery store trips. Customers crept down cordoned aisles in carefully distanced ones and twos, guided by hastily-taped arrows on the floor in serpentine traffic flows. Once leisurely errands of exploration and imagination became surgical strikes: Get in. Secure the goods. Get out. 

Some would say the “normal” has returned to our supermarkets. The hustle is back. The bustle is here. Yet if you look closely, and sometimes you don’t even have to do that, you’ll catch glimpses of the odd absence to remind us that normal isn’t quite normal anymore. While shoppers have filled the aisles in droves once more, it’s now the empty spaces on the shelves signaling not all is quite right. 

Supply chains are the invisible lifelines of our society. We take for granted that the things we want and need can appear in our local shops or at our doorsteps without us breaking a sweat or sparing a second thought. But now, we’re finding out just how fragile those lifelines really are. 

It’s been 482 days since I’ve had a Berry Hibiscus Refresher from Starbucks. I understand this is a first world problem, but it is a problem. At first I thought that catastrophe had befallen the world’s hibiscus supply. Then, in a stark example of taking things for granted, I realized I don’t really know what a hibiscus even is. It didn’t matter to me. It was just something that went into a drink that I ordered on my phone and I never once thought it wouldn’t be there.

Despite the world’s reopening after the most severe of pandemic restrictions, the supply chain is buckling. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the food industry. A tractor can sit in a hot container for an extra week and emerge unscathed. Avocados not so much. 

A confluence of factors: worker resignation, port backups, soaring ingredient costs, have all put food and consumer goods manufacturers of all shapes and scales in precarious positions. These factors didn’t create the issues, but they did exacerbate and expose inefficiencies in these sprawling, hyper-complex ecosystems. If you’ve been following, you’ve likely seen a new word froth up next to the mention of supply chains: resiliency. 
Resiliency, in this context, is something these companies didn’t know they needed until they realized they didn’t have it, and reverse-engineering resiliency into a longstanding paradigm is a tall order (if not a Grande or Venti one. Get it? Because like how I was talking about Starbucks earlier?) It requires agility and adaptability, and an undertaking of transformational initiatives in key areas.

1)    Visibility

The key to understanding how your company can operate in a new, improved ways is to understand how exactly you operate today. I saw “exactly” because far too often what is supposed to happen is quite different than what does happen. The larger your enterprise, the more locations you have to manage, the more ingredients and products you provide, the more opportunity for variance that can lead to wasted time and product. Digital tools like modern ERP and SCM systems, combined with diagnostic tools like Process Mining, allow companies to get fact-based views of how their companies operate and where the roadblocks and bottlenecks lie.

2)    Operational Efficiency

Understanding where the problems lay is half the battle, but simply shoring up issues in the way work was done doesn’t help your enterprise establish new, more flexible ways of working in the future. Collaboration and visualization tools allow enterprises to leverage their workers experience and insights to build new ways of working to help the company operate in the most streamlined way. Process repositories connect these business process blueprints to the people and tools used to execute on them, giving every worker in the value chain insight into the new way of working and ensuring rapid and seamless change management.

3)    Adaptive Planning

In navigating the new supply landscape, it often becomes apparent that the most preferable option is not the most viable. Process modelling and BPM tools allow companies to create multi-layered process chains, and have predictive capabilities should contingencies need to be taken at various steps along the process. By having an end-to-end view of the entire supply chain process, stakeholders are able to turn information into actionable insight and make crucial decisions quickly, which can make the difference between a finished good shipping out the door, or a collection of past-due ingredients headed for waste management. 

In order to keep the shelves stocked and households supplied with the everyday products we rely on, food and consumer goods manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to defend narrow profit margins and deliver with the timeliness and efficiency that customers have come to expect. Modern, digital tools are vital to accelerating transformation efforts and building flexibility and resiliency into operating models that will allow companies to weather any storm. 

P.S. If you or someone you know has a secret hibiscus stash they’re willing to share, please let me know. 

Written by Scott Leddy, VP of North American Sales
 

 

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