Avoiding Supply Chain Imbalance Through Collaboration

Avoiding Supply Chain Imbalance Through Collaboration

When we think of supply chain disruptions, we usually only consider the shortages that became familiar during the pandemic—back-ordered or unavailable parts, empty store shelves, long delays in shipping and fulfillment. But it seems that many companies are now experiencing the opposite, in the form of significant excess inventory.

This problem is having an impact in a variety of industries, with overall manufacturer and trade inventories in June being up 18.5% compared to the previous year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Every company is different, but many appear to be experiencing inventory imbalances driven by abrupt changes in either supply or demand, or both. Managing inventory is always challenging, but the volatility of the past two years has made it especially difficult. As supplies ran short during the pandemic, many companies boosted orders to build buffer stocks. Now, with demand subsiding somewhat—or shifting to different products—some of those companies are left with too much inventory. This can lead to excessive amounts of capital being tied up in goods, along with other carrying costs for things such as storage space and insurance. And for companies focused on innovation, excess inventory increases the potential for product obsolescence, as components sit on shelves waiting to be used. 

Taming Supply Imbalance

What can companies do to reduce inventory imbalances in the future? There is no simple answer, but they can take steps such as tightening their inventory-accounting practices to gain a more timely, detailed view of the materials they and their suppliers have on hand. This can help them understand how well inventory is aligned with demand. Additionally, they can change their ordering patterns to focus on smaller, more frequent purchases; making it easier to respond quickly to changes in demand. They can also conduct assessments that proactively identify potential risks in the upstream supply chain.

More broadly, companies can re-examine just-in-time practices and look for ways to use targeted, carefully managed buffer inventory to reduce their vulnerability to shortages. Or they can consider structural changes to the supply network, including reshoring to reduce reliance on long global supply chains and bringing more suppliers into the mix to expand sourcing options.

Looking forward, effectively managing inventory imbalances in an era of “disruption as normal” will require increased visibility across larger portions of the supply chain. Here, companies can consider technologies ranging from EDI to supplier portals and cloud-based supply-chain platforms that let partners work together to understand supply and demand to optimize inventory levels.

In the end, however, the best tool for avoiding inventory imbalances will be relationships that allow partners up and down the supply chain to communicate and collaborate to identify imbalances early on. For many, this will call for new ways of working with partners to share information about risks and disruptions in production and logistics; about the design of new products; about products reaching the end of their lifecycle; and about changes in end-customer demand.

To a great extent, inventory imbalances are the result of uncertainty. Strong relationships that foster greater information-sharing will be key to cutting through that uncertainty to keep inventories at levels that will meet the needs of companies and customers alike.

Strengthen Product Supplier Partnerships to Address Current Supply Chain Dynamics

Strengthen Product Supplier Partnerships

As supply chain constraints have shifted traditional buyer-focused procurement and supply-chain systems into being more supplier-focused, some procurement experts are calling 2022 “the year of the supplier.” Businesses today are facing pressure to diversify and localize their supplier base, putting manufacturers in a stronger position.

In this new landscape, companies are increasingly adopting a supplier relationship management (SRM) approach to create better working relationships. This mindset envisions the buyer-seller dynamic as an active partnership that can bring value to your company.

When correctly implemented, SRM creates a mutually beneficial relationship where your organization and its suppliers are working together to reach common goals. It helps supply chain managers ensure safety, security, compliance, and cost savings at all stages of the process.

To adopt an effective SRM approach, four strategies suggested by operations services provider Symplr include:

  • Learning about your suppliers
  • Educating them about your organization
  • Communicating and keeping them informed about the big picture
  • Setting clear expectations and KPIs and checking on them regularly

It also makes sense that in a world where companies are highly focused on managing how customers, employees, and the general public experience their brand, they extend that focus to the supplier experience as well. In today’s supplier-focused market, some companies are going beyond SRM to practice supplier experience management (SXM), which engages suppliers through many different components like bidding, information management, communication, insights, and support.

Organizations can improve the experience they offer to suppliers by creating an SXM road map, mapping out supplier journeys through your systems, designing a supplier communication plan, and adopting new digital solutions, among other steps, according to a recent article by global management consulting firm Kearney.

Ultimately, it’s no longer sufficient for companies and product suppliers to adopt distinct buyer and seller roles. In the new supply chain environment, both must be focused on developing authentic partnerships to succeed.

Dynamic stands ready to help you with this process and serve as a true strategic partner in your supply chain’s success. We acquire products only through OEM-authorized channels. Our expertise and connections with more than 800 technology providers can help your company realize supply chain savings and plan ahead for important events including product End of Life (EOL).

Learn more about Dynamic Technology Supply Chain Management solutions.

The Supply Chain’s People Problem: What It Means for Your Business

Supply Chain’s People Problem

In a recent report, CBS News noted that at the Port of Los Angeles, incoming cargo is straining warehouse capacity.  The number of containers waiting to be shipped inland has jumped from 9,000 to 35,000, and incoming cargo ships may soon be backed up in the harbor. The cause of this disruption is not wildfires, storms, geopolitical forces, or trade barriers, but rather a lack of railroad workers to haul containers out of the port. That’s just one problem in a single location, but it illustrates the fact that labor shortages have become a major source of continuing supply chain disruptions.

Supply chain labor shortages have made headlines throughout the COVID pandemic, and they were already in evidence long before the term “the Great Resignation” was coined. While COVID clearly made labor shortages worse, it’s not the only factor driving the problem. Waves of retiring baby boomers, a lack of critical technical talent, and the new expectations of younger workers have all made it difficult to recruit and retain the right people. And the problem is not going away soon.

Gaining More Resiliency While Reducing Vulnerability

The question is what can be done about it. Much of the problem is, of course, outside of any one company’s control. Manufacturers, for example, cannot solve their suppliers’ labor problems for them. But they can work to increase visibility into their partners’ operations to identify problems early on; keep the channels of communication with partners open; expand their supplier base to reduce reliance on a limited number of partners; and build robust risk management capabilities to make supply chains more resilient and less vulnerable to the labor shortages their partners might face.

There are also internal actions companies can take. Typically, much of the supply chain is in-house and performed by a company’s employees—and that reality should prompt companies to revisit their talent strategies. A recent study from the Pew Research Center, which looked at why people quit their jobs last year, offers some insights that can inform those efforts.

Pew found that less than one-third of the people who quit their jobs last year did so for COVID-related reasons. Instead, many pointed to low pay as a top reason, cited by about two-thirds of respondents. But workers also pointed to a range of other reasons, some of which could be addressed by targeted changes to company policies. For example, child-care issues were cited by nearly half of employees with young children, which suggests that daycare programs could be an advantage in the labor market. And more than 4 out of 10 respondents cited a lack of flexibility in work hours; here, companies might consider strategies such as flex time, job-sharing, and the use of digital technology to support more remote work.

“Soft” issues are also critical. About two-thirds of respondents said they quit because “they felt disrespected at work.”  Executives should take that to heart because they set the tone for a respectful company culture. They can back that up with training and clear career paths that demonstrate respect.

Overall, addressing the supply chain labor shortage is not just about higher pay, but also about how the company relates to employees and their lifestyles. There is no silver bullet solution available. Instead, companies will need to consider “all of the above” to create a clear employee value proposition that will enable companies to attract and retain the employees they need to keep their supply chains moving.  It’s a puzzle±but those companies that crack it will be in a better position to keep their supply chains running smoothly and efficiently.

Skin in the Game: A Collaborative Approach to Identifying Supply Chain Risk

skin-in-the-game

Transparency and visibility are critical to the effective operation of supply chains, and manufacturers and suppliers share a great deal of information in order to increase efficiency and predictability and, ultimately, get materials and products to the right place at the right time. But that type of collaboration often falls short in one key area—the identification of risk.

Typically, manufacturers are highly diligent when it comes to asking suppliers to share data about costs, schedules, and lead times—but very few apply the same sort of rigor when it comes to requiring information about upstream supply risks. They may hope that suppliers give them that information, or they may try to find it on their own, but they rarely press suppliers for it. As a result, there is an increased likelihood that disruptions will catch them by surprise and that they will be forced to react to problems rather than prevent them.

That approach is becoming less and less tenable. As a report from McKinsey & Company notes, we are now “operating in a world where disruptions are regular occurrences. Averaging across industries, companies can now expect supply chain disruptions lasting a month or longer to occur every 3.7 years, and the most severe events take a major financial toll.”

The “Push” Approach

Manufacturers can address this by establishing a disciplined process in which suppliers proactively “push” risk information to manufacturers, rather than waiting to be asked for it. That means that contracts and RFPs should require suppliers to provide information on potential issues with obsolescence, sourcing, sustainability, and compliance for the manufacturer’s mission-critical products and components. The point is to ensure that suppliers have some skin in the game, and a clear responsibility for scanning the horizon for risk.

This process should also include mechanisms that make sure that this supplier risk information is fed to the appropriate people and functions within the manufacturer organization. This should include product and engineering teams, who can use that information to modify designs to mitigate the identified potential risks. Internal teams should also communicate closely with suppliers to provide guidance on specifications and streamline the authorization of alternative components to help reduce risk.

Mutual Benefit

All of this will require fundamental change in the traditional relationship with suppliers, and that may make suppliers uncomfortable. Therefore, it’s important to remind them that the increased responsiveness to risk that this process will bring will benefit them and the supply chain as a whole, as well as the manufacturer. And it will them help build higher levels of trust that strengthen their relationships with their customers.

This process is not, in itself, a cure-all for supply chain risk, and manufacturers will still need formal internal processes for evaluating these risks using a broad range of data and mechanisms to ensure that senior management can monitor risk. But the flow of supplier information can support those internal processes. Suppliers are, by definition, in a better position to see upstream risks—and in essence, this approach lets manufacturers tap into that perspective to extend their “risk perimeter” further out from the organization. Moreover, in the event of an unavoidable disruption, the shared understanding of risk and the increased levels of trust will put suppliers and manufacturers in a better position to work together to recover, thereby enhancing the resilience of the supply chain.