Managing a supply chain in unprecedented times

By Lynn Torrel, chief supply chain and procurement officer at Flex

Originally posted on Flex blog


Countless books and articles have been written over the years highlighting characteristics of strong global supply chains. While the articles are numerous, the characteristics are usually the same and have some common traits. They highlight the use of data analytics and real-time information, strong partnerships, collaboration, risk-planning, leadership and using a total cost of ownership model just to name a few. The past several months is proving just how vital these characteristics are in a crisis and how they all need to work together to truly make a resilient supply chain capable of performing in these unprecedented times.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented new challenges that the industry has never faced before. Normal supply chains have been interrupted while at the same time the demand for medical devices, such as ventilators are experiencing tremendous increases from both established and new manufacturers. This creates a big challenge, because the soaring demand is outpacing the supply in a contracting and constrained market.

We truly have entered an unprecedented time that is requiring us to shift and work in new ways focused on speed and flexibility while maintaining structure and system integrity. As we assembled the supply chain task force at Flex to address this challenge, I was reminded of the famous line from the movie Apollo 13 when the Flight Director, Gene Kranz, stated: “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”

In this industry, adaptability and flexibility in a dynamic business environment are critical to our customer’s success. We are continuously managing complex, ever-evolving supply chains to support new customers, markets, product introductions, variations in demand, shifts in manufacturing, and end of life products while identifying, monitoring and navigating through any potential supply disruptions. Clearly COVID-19 is a major disruption and has tested the resiliency of the supply chain. Historically, unplanned and significant supply disruptions are localized, but the COVID-19 crisis impacted the entire global supply chain across all industries and continues to evolve and test the ability of companies to react.

Flex has a global footprint and a suite of data-driven supply chain management tools, which are key assets to assessing and managing the continuously shifting supply chain landscape and mitigating both identified and black-swan risks. The tools give us access to information, but it is the supply chain professionals making good decisions with less than perfect data that is the difference in managing these risks.

To manage the COVID-19 situation, since the beginning of the crisis in January, Flex assembled a global task force that has visibility to evolving supply chain events and is able to execute internal changes and work with our supplier partners to manage our supply chain. The quickly moving COVID-19 situation has created localized disruptions which required real-time analysis and mitigation.  Working with our suppliers and customers we have to analyze demand and balance the need for supply against the risk of creating an artificially constrained market. Throughout the crisis we continue to learn more about our ability to effectively respond to our customers’ needs and work to develop improved tools and processes to better support future supply chain disruptions.

It is all part of managing an evolving supply chain in a connected world dealing with unprecedented situations and our disciplined response to these local and global disruptions. While it has been challenging, I have been very impressed by how the global supply chain has come together to work the problem. Everyone understands the challenge and the opportunity for all of us to play an important role in helping medical professionals and patients around the world in the battle against COVID-19.

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