Is it just me, or has every journalist, politician, and newscaster become an expert in supply chain management? It seems like every day, we are peppered with reports about port congestion, bare shelves, and a Christmas story that only Scrooge could love.
These “experts” also valiantly seek to explain the cause of the great supply chain dilemma. They want to blame greedy companies for global sourcing, other politicians for failing to properly deal with the COVID-19 pandemic or fund infrastructure expansion, essential transportation and port labor for staying home, and panicked consumers for hoarding product.
To be sure, each of these groups contributes to the persistent challenges in many supply chains. Just like the COVID-19 virus, our supply chain problems haven’t gone away as quickly as we would hope. But let’s not buy into the false narrative that commerce has come to a complete stop. While productivity is hampered and flows are slower than desired, manufacturing is occurring, ports are operating, trucks are moving, and most store shelves are stocked.
In the spirit of being a glass half-full observer of the supply chain industry, let me talk about some positives that are highly deserving of greater attention.
First and foremost is the unwavering effort and creativity displayed by supply chain professionals throughout the pandemic. These in-the-trenches go-getters have shrugged off the criticism and handled each disruption with poise. Manufacturing and distribution companies are ramping up their use of automation to overcome labor woes. Leading retailers are working around supply chain chokepoints with creative mode selection and routing solutions. Parcel carriers are adding capacity to move record numbers of e-commerce packages. Finally, companies across the supply chain are putting more focus on collaborative problem solving.
One needs to look no further than the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry to gain an appreciation for creative and collaborative approaches to solving supply chain issues. During his general session at CSCMP’s annual EDGE Conference, Jim Cafone, vice president of strategy and business operations for Pfizer, detailed the challenges the company faced and the essential role of internal and external collaboration in bringing its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine to market in nine months. Already this year, Pfizer has distributed more than 1.5 billion doses of its vaccine thanks to its adoption of parallel development processes, miniaturization of production operations, and innovations in cold packaging.
Speaking of EDGE, it is also noteworthy that CSCMP had its own supply chain success story in September. While many other professional associations and conference companies postponed events for the balance of 2021, CSCMP boldly moved forward with the EDGE Conference in Atlanta. Thanks to the outstanding efforts of the EDGE Conference committee and the CSCMP staff, more than 2,000 attendees were able to learn from supply chain experts like Jim Cafone, see the latest innovations at the Supply Chain Exchange, and hear from leading universities during the Academic Research Symposium. Congratulations to all for helping CSCMP safely connect, educate, and develop the world’s supply chain management professionals at EDGE 2021.
Simply stated, supply chains are disrupted, but they are not broken. We just need to continue to work through the challenges with collaborative and creative solutions. Here’s an easy one that you can use to simplify your life. At the risk of upsetting my friends in the retail world, make this Christmas the one that you give gifts of experiences rather than stuff. It will look a bit different under the tree, but you won’t be fighting over limited supplies of hot products!