The past 16 months have been tumultuous for most businesses – especially for organisations in the supply chain and procurement sector. Richard Herbage, Principal and Managing Director of Supply Chain Solutions Network Limited, set out his perspectives and insights in a recent Q&A with Holly Antonia Butler, Business Manager at Michael Page. 

Richard has had a successful career in both manufacturing and retail businesses for huge industry names such as Unilever, Mars, B&Q, Geest, Premier Foods and Youngs Seafood. He has collected over 25 years of experience across a broad range of supply chains, from brass knobs from Delhi, to sandwiches from Spalding to Branston from Bury and Fish from Grimsby. 

Here are some key takeaways from the past 16 months of business: 

Q: Supply chains have been put under immense pressure through the pandemic - what have been the most common challenges and key learnings?

Businesses have learnt a lot during this pandemic in terms of supply chain management. The key learning is that the historical pursuit of one single plan can get in the way of further contingency planning. For many businesses, the turmoil caused by Covid-19 made them increasingly aware that their planning and forecasting was just not robust enough and that they had an inability to run scenarios quickly enough or wide enough across various markets. For a lot of businesses, the inflexibility of their systems meant that the usual ERP planning functionalities were just too rigid and didn’t allow them to plan for different scenarios. 

Q: Who have been the winners and why? 

Businesses who have re-invented themselves in these unprecedented times have really come out on top - companies who recently invested in systems processes and people to enhance their supply chain. If your business is in control of its physical operations, it is much easier to be able to make decisions and make change very quickly. 

There are several great businesses out there that successfully adapted their Brexit contingency plans into a pandemic plan – helping them respond quickly to massive swings in demand and supply during the worst of the pandemic. In particular, a number were able to exploit the best of mobile best of mobile technology to come out on top during Covid-19.  Home delivery services such as Ocado, DPD, APC, Amazon, Tesco and Asda used technology to both plan and track activity and keep their customers informed and customer expectations of home delivery reliability have been raised. 

Q: What does the future hold for supply chain and procurement? 

In the wake of Covid-19, there must be a renewed push to improve forecasting, to speed up review cycles and to exploit AI where possible.  The online world will continue to grow like never before and that means lots of data needing big data capabilities. Such multi-channel supply chain management extends complexity – it needs different physical supply chains and different warehouse layouts to make it viable. Companies will need to invest in packing station efficiency too, as it is still too manual in many cases. 

Q: What advice can you give to other business leaders in the space?

You need an organisation structure that routinely analyses alternate scenarios and makes effective decisions. Ask more questions, to get deeper answers. Businesses that are looking to be more data driven need to invest in data analysis skills and tools as well as data harvesting capabilities. Recruit and recognise analytical talent into supply chain roles and provide them with the best tools available to interpret the data. And finally, be wary of ERP systems which claim to have enhanced planning functionality but are in fact very basic and might hold you back! 

Find more articles and insights on the Michael Page Procurement and Supply Chain hub today. To find out more about how we can support your hiring processes and source the right talent for your team, get in touch with your local Michael Page Procurement team.