An unprecedented series of events have put the spotlight back on logistics with companies having to take a new approach to meet ever-more complex demands

Supply chains are getting smarter. They are having to in order that they can adapt to the changing and quite unique circumstances in which Europe and the rest of the World finds itself.

Once something of a closed shop in terms of the very specialised eyes on what was merely an essential logistical operation, its importance is now something that concerns the wider interest of the Boardroom.

All of which means in an era where post-Covid productivity finds itself struggling alongside the complications of armed conflict, established teams of dedicated professionals are now finding they have to employ more intelligent networks to navigate them, particularly when the goods being moved are vital, not only to buyer and seller, but the health, and even survival, of those needing them.

The situation is further complicated by European Commission proposals which would, for the first time, require EU companies with more than 500 employees and turnover of €150 million to prevent human rights and environmental abuses along their full supply chains, by carrying out so-called ‘due diligence’.

So it’s not just a question of lining up trucks and ships behind production lines and hoping to avoid repeats of disasters involving ships running aground, factory fires or simply the wrong kinds of nuts and bolts being delivered.

Alessandro Chimera, Director of Digitalisation Strategy at the technology company TIBCO in California pointed out recently that an estimated 75 per cent of companies have been impacted by supply chain disruptions, saying: “We must also remember that some industries have a snowball effect upon others; when the semiconductor industry experiences a shortfall in production, most other industries are affected by the change in supply.

“But as cataclysmic as these incidents can be, business leaders need to be aware that when disruptions do happen, it is possible to minimise their impact.”

He added: “Where a business is able to process early warning signals, it can proactively control and manage the scale of impact that any given disruption.”

This means optimising the supply chain: empowering their IT with the sort of modern, event-driven infrastructure that delivers the best forecasting and agile decision-making, supported by real-time insights that enable it to manage disruptive events, forecast demand, improve customer satisfaction and ultimately increase sales.

Ultimately, businesses need to build their own supply chain networks in which trading partners can, for example, exchange data through APIs via cloud-based systems and process it in real-time, thanks to its ability to work with external sources of such as news providers, and those with a handle on everything from weather to market updates data.

According to Gartner, the US technology research and consulting firm: “Growing complexity and volatility are forcing supply chain organisations to adjust their technology investments to align with their needs for resiliency, agility and intelligent operations. Supply chain technology leaders can use this research to find where future risks and opportunities lie.

“Enhancing end-to-end decision-making at the edge is driving notable supply chain technology investment.”

The pharma industry has additional issues of its own; one of the most common being the difficulty in tracing problems to their source, pharmaceutical fraud and even rising competition from generic alternatives.

A recent study put supply chain support at the top of the wish list for UK manufacturing SMEs if they are to make the most of the post-pandemic recovery. Over three quarters of the 335 firms questioned by the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) indicated that supply chain improvement would make them more profitable, while grants to help them buy new equipment and invest in new technologies to support digitalisation would make the biggest difference to their ongoing performance.

The survey – the largest ever undertaken on the future of industrial business support – showed that management teams wanted access to specialist external advice and funding to drive profitability (68%), increase sales (62%) and to boost productivity (58).

Whilst 75 per cent felt that leadership and management training is beneficial, 83 per cent said they wanted business support to be delivered by experts with significant industry experience.

Unsurprisingly considering the growing environmental agenda, just over a quarter said they want to use assistance to help them move towards Net Zero to meet new sustainability targets and make the most of the green economy.

“We are operating in unique times, with companies looking to recover from the after-effects of the pandemic but against a volatile backdrop of supply chain disruption and rising inflationary pressures. It is critical that Manufacturing bosses continue to receive specialist support to rebuild their growth strategies,” said Dean Barnes, Regional Director of the Manufacturing Growth Programme, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and launched in 2016.