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Identifying Weaknesses, Using Data to Strengthen Supply Chains [Q&A]

Identifying Weaknesses, Using Data to Strengthen Supply Chains [Q&A]

As vaccination levels rise, COVID case numbers drop, and health guidelines ease, the economic bounceback has generated as many supply chain challenges as economic upswings. For manufacturers, this means navigating another “new normal” packed with new sourcing variables that impact production capabilities, purchasing, and supply chain composition. To help sort through some of these dynamics, we recently sat down with Frankie Mossman of Overhaul. She serves as chief customer officer for the provider of real-time visibility and risk-management software.

Jeff Reinke (JR): If you looked at a manufacturer’s current supply chain and compared it to January 2020, what do you think would be the biggest differences?

Frankie Mossman (FM): Undeniably, the pandemic highlighted weak points in supply chains, but it also changed how we work and collaborate cross-functionally — and for the better.

Until the pandemic, it was unimaginable to think that supporting a work-from-home culture would become an overnight global trend. Previously, for most of us, traveling and getting in front of our customers was paramount to retaining revenue and organic growth. Yet today, we are rethinking how we connect and communicate.

Fast-forward nearly 15 months, and travel is still being met with hesitation and a majority of the workforce remains remote. We have essential workers keeping the factories running and trucks loaded, while at the same time, planners, customer service, and sourcing are managing the day-to-day and solving supply issues in virtual settings.

With communication needs suddenly forced to go digital, the working world required greater collaboration in order to ensure factories could keep running and customers be informed of current shortages and new delivery appointments. At Overhaul, we saw this reality firsthand with clients using our visibility solution to assess inventory positions and redirect inventory, based on distribution closures and regional needs.

This new normal is accelerating the need to digitize further and bring visibility in a traditional supply chain model, as well as across the entire value chain (raw materials to end customers).

JR: The COVID situation has led many manufacturers to take a hard look at reshoring at least some of their production capabilities. Do you think we’ll see a legitimate surge in U.S.-based manufacturing as a result?

FM: Even before COVID, there was a trend to start regionalizing supply chains as companies explored innovative ways to reduce inventory, transportation costs, and lead-times to the final mile. However, this effort requires investment and a clear strategy for market penetration.

It involves dual qualifications and mapping out complete value chains by looking at raw material sources. As more companies consider their product and market opportunities with a regionalized approach, we will start to see industry-specific shifts.

This is where and why supply chains must become agile and foster more resilience in their networks. The COVID pandemic highlighted the need to balance costs with the ability to tackle and mitigate disruptions. Moving forward, yet effective immediately, the key to success will be in mapping out current supply chains and identifying the weaknesses.

JR: Also getting more attention due to pandemic-related dynamics is manufacturers investing in IoT-based technologies at higher levels. How could these investments impact supply chain functions? 

FM: Inarguably, we’ve known for years that supply chain visibility is key to understanding your networks door-to-door and inside the factory. Moreover, actioning what you see and, ultimately, being proactive on how we solve supply chain disruptions is going to be critical. If nothing else, the pandemic highlighted the urgency for propelling our digital strategies forward.

Yet, the biggest challenge is still “the D word” — data. Data exists, but in its purest form is fragmented, disconnected, and intermittent. 

One way to bridge the gap is with IoT technology — adding a sensor to cargo or a device to let you know what is happening in real-time. This quickly allows manufacturers to bypass heavy integrations to start gaining visibility, but it can be costly and disallows for a complete penetration across the chain.

What we are going to see — and a direct challenge that Overhaul already has seized — is accepting data and learning how to enable manufacturers and shippers to aggregate their data from multiple sources.

Rather than placing a dot on the map — “here’s where it is” — it’s more about connecting data that brings actionable visibility and enables early warning systems.

JR: Supply chain visibility has always been vitally important. What new challenges do you see rising on this front, post-pandemic?

FM: Just as we were figuring out the new normal, we find ourselves in the middle of a massive electronic component shortage, which majorly disrupts many industries and demands planning for triggering when and how to buy. Secondly, the need for dual sourcing becomes paramount.

Our customers are asking for better transparency on disruptions and proactive measures to protect them, which is going to force more dialogue around how we improve those areas. 

JR: If you could provide supply chain professionals in the U.S. industrial sector with one gift, one wish granted, or one superpower, what would it be?

FM: That’s easy! All supply chain professionals want accurate forecasting. 

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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