Supply chain experts create solutions with strategic thinking

The intricacies of effective supply chain management have been brought into sharp focus through the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Freighters heavy with cargo bob on the ocean waiting for the chance to offload much-needed goods and materials.

Once on shore, congestion due to a shortage of space for containers — along with transport trucks’ inability to return empty containers back to the port — is exacerbating the lag in getting product to where it needs to go. In Ontario, a line of brand-new cars sit ready to hit the road except they’re missing a single, small chip. The devastating rain and floods in B.C. cutting off the three major highways and one railway out of Vancouver — supply chain woes already complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic — have just increased exponentially.

It’s a tangle of disruptions and one supply chain experts work deftly to avoid in the first place.

Professional pessimists and pivoters— they are constantly looking ahead — plotting potential problems and coming up with solutions before that tangle even starts.

“Supply chain management professionals solve problems for businesses they don’t even know they have,” says Tanya Roach, senior manager of strategic sourcing and procurement operations at Federated Co-operatives Limited and an instructor for SAIT’s Continuing Education program.

“At the heart of it, supply chain management is about getting goods to the right place at the right time for the right cost,” Roach adds. “There are lots of ways and strategies to do that, all while mitigating risks for organizations.”

These in-demand skills are the foundation of SAIT’s Supply Management training, where students earn a diploma issued by Supply Chain Canada (SCC). The program, which teaches students how to support the management of increasingly complex supply chains, is designed for those who are entering or already established in purchasing, procurement or inventory fields.

The intricacies of effective supply chain management have been brought into sharp focus through the global COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses supplying raw materials and manufacturers who transform those into products shut down in the initial stages of the pandemic. This coupled with a significant increase in buying patterns with people using their vacation dollars to buy more consumer products primarily from Asia has caused a snowball effect.

“Now there’s a huge push to move product, but the ports can’t keep up and there’s not enough infrastructure to support the demand,” says Roach. “These problems don’t get solved overnight. That’s the challenge now.”

While supply chain issues have complicated access to ‘nice to have’ items — like new cars and video game consoles — the weather-related destruction in B.C. created shortages of food and other essentials. Behind the scenes, supply chain experts worked to solve the problems. However, even when not in emergent situations like the one that unfolded in B.C. in November, this is the work of those in supply chain management.

“These are all supply chain issues that professionals solve every day. You need to pivot and be providing solutions,” says Roach. “There’s always a solution, it just might not be the one you’re used to seeing.”

Effective supply chain management today relies on collaboration and strategic planning — a shift away from the more tactical profession it once was. With an increasing need for strategic thinking and reduced risk, Roach says supply chain management is a growing field that requires people good at plotting ahead to avoid problems, while solving them as they do arise.

“You have to be thinking about what happens when things go wrong — and getting the business to think about it,” she says. “It’s essential to every business.”

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