At Withum, we focus on using technology to help improve business operations; here are a few ideas to help adapt to both short-term disruptions and longer-term changes to your supply chains and business operations.
1. Visualize/Map Your Supply Chain Processes: To get a handle on exactly what has changed and how to adapt, we recommend visualizing and documenting core pieces of the disrupted process. If there is time, you can start by visualizing the pre-crisis process. If you have both a pre-and-post-mapping of the underlying process, it will be easier to see exactly where the disruptions are located. There are tools to help you do this by visualizing the process and defining who does what and when they do it. The entire process is packaged up into steps and you can see exactly how things are, or are supposed, to work.
2. Why This Helps: If you truly understand how your supply chain works, you can see where the weak points are and respond to mitigate those risks (at least to some degree). Moreover, if you see where you are dependent on people, and those people are no longer able to work, you can at least come up with contingency plans. Even if you have not mapped out your processes before the COVID crisis, it still makes sense to do so now as we may be living with disrupted supply chains for some time to come. The more you know how your supply chain is working (both ideally and right now) the better you are equipped to mitigate problems.
3. How to Map Your Supply Chain Processes: There are several good tools on the market. One of the best is called Promapp from Nintex. While you can map a process with Visio or even PowerPoint, a mapping tool will guide you through the process in a structured way, so you don’t miss anything. You want to understand the steps in the process, who is involved, and what IT systems play a role and how they function. These comprehensive maps are your first-line response to disruptions.
4. So, What Are You Looking For?
Right now, we are seeing firms struggle with replacing or augmenting manual processes dependent on people taking action based on some input. For example, people that were receiving emails (often with attachments) to fill orders and then manually inputting information into another system are having trouble (for a variety of reasons) keeping that process moving. It may be those people cannot work from home or don’t have remote access to the tools needed to fulfill their role in the process. If you see where those problems are, you can then decide on how to best address them.
5. Responding: Effective mitigation of risks depends on the type of issues at hand. If your processes are too reliant on people or too hands-on, it may be a good idea to look at automating as much of a process as you can. If your primary issue is access to existing IT systems while your employees are remote, you can look for ways to securely provide your desktop environments to now-remote workers. The bottom line is you need to know what the problems are in order to effectively address them.
6. Be Ready to Adapt: In this environment, we know things will evolve quickly and may not return to normal for several weeks or months. During that time, your supply chain issues will likely change as your suppliers and vendors face their own challenges and adapt to new realities.
We think the best way to adapt is to truly understand your core processes and create contingency plans. And by-the-way, this mapping exercise applies to everything in your business, not just your supply chain. As we all work from home, it is a good idea to map out all your core operational processes (like HR, IT, Payroll and other critical needs) so you can create contingency plans. We live in an age of incredible technological capabilities; the tools to help firms get through this crisis are there and you may already have some of them in-house right now. More on that in part 2 of this series.