Many of us will remember a time not too long ago, when we said, “We need to put 2020 behind us. 2021 will be better.” And for a while it appeared that it might be true, until the new year arrived. While not a supply chain issue, January 1 found us still distracted by the 2020 Presidential election, and the disruption became worse as we experienced the unprecedented riot in Washington, and the second impeachment of Donald J. Trump.
It was about this time we learned that American businesses and government agencies had been the targets of sophisticated hackers, raising concerns about our cyber security.
While we were trying to rationalize all this and possible long-term impacts on the country, we had continuing concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficulties getting vaccines to the right places at the right time. While the major parcel carriers for the most part, performed well in getting the vaccines to the required locations, as we wrote last month, we hit the last mile wall in getting shots into the arms of those who needed it.
As we progressed into February, the country was paralyzed by some of the worst weather we have seen in decades. As this is written, the paralysis has started to dissipate in many areas. The problem was so widespread and critical it is not necessary for me to repeat the details here. One concern does bear repeating. The weather severely affected the movement of vaccines. Although 50 million Americans have received their first shot, less than 15 million have been able to get their second. Millions have received no shots at all. Inoculation sites have been closed for days.
Other supply chain concerns have arisen, as well. Port congestion, oil and gas supply disruption, capacity constraints, higher rates, and more have plagued some firms. Much of this is no doubt, a result of the weather and hopefully, will be resolved soon. Whatever the root causes, all these disruptions have challenged the most competent of supply chain managers. Many of us will adopt the optimism of Annie when she sang, “The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar there will be sun,” Optimism is great, and we must not lose it; but as new disruptions seem to arise every year, this might be a good time to place some emphasis on four areas.
The first is improving our ability to work and manage remotely for long periods of time. Many firms have performed well this way during the pandemic and the weather, but others have struggled. It is important that we have the technology, employees, and management in place that will enable us to work efficiently. Above all, we should ensure that employees are motivated and comfortable in a remote environment. Much has been written on the management of remote employees; and a review of others experiences and policies could be helpful.
As our technology becomes more sophisticated, apparently so does the ability of those capable of disrupting it. Some of this have paid little attention to our cyber security, but it should be at the top of the list of those things that may need review and modifications.
We should pay more attention to weather predictions. They are much better than they used to be, although they are not always accurate. FedEx employs two meteorologists for obvious reasons, but the rest of us need to be more aware of what is ahead of us. While we cannot be professional weather experts, we probably can be more careful about how we dispatch our shipments in inclimate weather. Alternate routing may be far better than having loads stuck on a closed interstate highway, even if it takes a little longer.
Finally, a major focus should be our supply chains and their design. Many firms have struggled during the increase in electronic commerce and the resulting service requirements. Depending on your core business, it may be necessary to “re-invent” processes, procedures, and locations in order to meet increasing performance and service demands.
The world is changing and coping with change and disruption often is uncomfortable, but necessary. As supply chain managers, we must stay alert as to how these disruptions affect us and our responsibilities. Yes, the sun will come out, but the past few years have suggested we may have a few more cloudy days.