Executive need to listen

ARTICLE | April 14, 2022 | 4 min read

4 strategies to improve supply chain resilience

How organizations are using digital technology to hedge supply chain risks

By Deborah Abrams Kaplan, Workflow contributor

  • Digital workflows provide the foundation for supply chain resilience, but they must be part of a larger strategy
  • Blockchain technology can streamline tracking of perishable goods and eliminate waste
  • Data from RFID tags and bills of lading can be used to improve shipping efficiency and prioritization
The pandemic’s disruption of the global supply chain cost U.S. companies $228 million in 2021, and adding in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supply chain turbulence appears to be sticking around for most of 2022.
The old model of just-in-time deliveries in an interconnected global supply network relied on stability and predictability, but is no longer adequate. What’s needed, experts say, are more resilient supply chains that can respond more quickly to unexpected swings in supply and demand.
Digitization is the foundation of a resilient supply chain, but it needs to be incorporated as part of a larger strategy. This can mean using tools that provide real-time visibility into inventories, adapting blockchain to track a product from raw material to delivery, or employing predictive algorithms that model how delays ripple through a supply chain. The best strategies will vary based on the organization and its particular needs.

European apparel retailer Scotch & Soda, with stores in more than 70 countries, needed to pinpoint individual items—down to the clothing type, color, and size—in each distribution center or store to avoid unsold surpluses each season.

In response to the pandemic, Scotch & Soda moved to omnichannel fulfillment, serving customers online, in brick-and-mortar stores, or via other channels. The company turned to radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags as a better way to track 10 million inventory items, help customers find the right item, and get goods to the right place.

With RFID, the retailer could fulfill stock directly from the stores, decreasing the time to reach the customer and improving customer service. Store associates can locate an item in real time, while corporate planners can use the information to optimize distribution, decrease waste, and better meet customer demand.

Product recalls of food products due to bacterial contamination can be extremely costly to grocers and suppliers. In response, Walmart and other retailers require growers to use blockchain to much more rapidly identify sources of contaminated produce.

BrightFarms, which provides greenhouse-grown products to Walmart and other large retailers, uses IBM’s Food Trust blockchain platform to pinpoint both the source and the destination of every box of greens it provides. This enables stores to quickly identify the problem products, minimizing waste from unaffected produce.

Blockchain technology had other benefits. BrightFarms found that by logging data from each step of the growing and delivery process, they could identify problems such as changes in storage temperatures. Since the greens are sold at higher prices than conventionally grown lettuce, this technology can help them track key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine which products produce the highest yields.

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Even before the pandemic, the Port of Montreal faced supply chain pressures from labor strikes, while Vancouver suffered disruptions from climate-related flooding. While the port previously measured supply chain performance based on transit time, reliability, and vessel weight, its new metrics focus on predicting the behavior of the full supply chain.

Early in the pandemic, port officials wanted to quickly unload personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical goods to speed their delivery. They developed an algorithm to scan an inbound vessel’s bill of lading—a document that lists the type, quantity, and destination of shipped goods—to identify whether it held items on their priority list and prioritize the containers with the needed medical goods.

While this was initially implemented for medical supplies, the port is planning to use the technology for other commodities like microchips or auto parts, charging extra for priority service.

The pandemic also highlighted the limits of relying on spreadsheets to manage supply chains. The tool, long a staple of supply chain management, is out of sync with the need of data-driven manufacturers and suppliers for real-time information.

The City of Milan, hit hard by the virus in early 2020, had relied on spreadsheets to keep track of PPE and other supplies. The practice often resulted in missing and incomplete data and made ordering and shipping difficult. The manual tracking approach provided little or no control over stockrooms; PPE and other supplies were not reaching the medical facilities and personnel in a timely manner, and sometimes did not arrive at all.

To address these issues, the city implemented a custom workflow solution that displayed inventory levels and locations in real time. This enabled the city to track and manage the receipt and shipping of masks, gloves, and other essential equipment distribution to more than 500 community facilities.


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Deborah Abrams Kaplan writes about supply chain, business automation, and healthcare management for B2B and B2C readers. Her work is published in Supply Chain Dive, Fast Company, Inc., Managed Healthcare Executive, Modern Healthcare Custom Publishing, and others.