Supply Chain from Both Sides

It is June 2021 and there appears to be a shortage of everything, semi-conductors, steel, and paperboard just to name a few key products. There is a Joni Mitchell song, famously covered with Judy Collins entitled: Both Sides Now. I will just substitute the words “supply chain” in place of “love”:

“I looked at the supply chain from both sides now /From up and down / I really don’t know supply chain at all”

When the pandemic came people talked about a demand in terms of a “V” a “W”, a “U” and recovery in the form of “K” with demand going for some up and others going down. It appears that is where the discussion ended. What we could not predict was when demand would go sharply up but it was almost inevitable that would happen sometime and it is doing that now.

We all get caught in the moment, and spend too little time planning for future, even it can predicted, particularly when it is different from anything we know. In retrospect, planning should have began for probable sharp up side when we were near bottom in April 2020. What was unknown at that time was how long we would be at bottom or the next cliff up, but a sharp upturn was inevitable looking at this in retrospect.

Part of that is we really don’t know supply chain at all, when it verves from the normal. What are the key industries to form the basis of support of the economy? Some of this may indirect to our organization, such as automobile supplier having lower business due the auto makers not having enough computer chips.

I think there is a silo issue of viewing the supply chain as only your company, its suppliers and customers. This future question on the sharp upturn was beyond anything experienced. It could not be programmed in advance. The question is how to view this from an entire economy level. What are the key industries needed? How have these industries reacted to the market falling off the cliff? Will these adjustments that were to deal with bottom of the economy inhibit a response when a sharp rise occurs.

The first step in this is just knowing to ask the questions. The second step would be need to have a realization that organizations need support for this transformation beyond their walls. Government, Universities, and Professional Organizations need to be encouraged to explore these type of new transformative issues. While ultimately it will be individual organizations will need to spend their own capital to accomplish their needs, there should be a realization that the issues are bigger than any one organization or company. It needs to be viewed as a supply chain community to deal with such big issues.

Consensus is not needed in this community process. Rather the energy expended will provide the light for individual organizations to plan. In some cases community support will be needed where there is a long planning lead time such as semi-conductor plants which takes year or more to build. The ride will be last bumpy if we plan for it.

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