With each technological advancement, it becomes faster and easier to process transactions, achieve visibility and apply advanced analytics to vast pools of data. Not only does this bring previously unthinkable tasks within reach, it makes it possible to run multiple scenarios faster, in near real time, and with increasing levels of intelligent automation.
These technical innovations are transforming how the government performs vital functions such as securing sufficient stock of personal protective equipment to operate through the COVID-19 pandemic. The more critical the function, the more likely it is to benefit from advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning because these innovations make it possible to incorporate huge databases and additional information sources into the decision-making process without delays in response time.
When we apply these emerging technological capabilities directly to the management of supply chains, the results are powerful and highly impactful. Supplier databases can make a significant difference in the safety and quality of life for its constituents.
Just as in the private sector, federal, state and local governments want access to a supplier database that can help predict potential supply chain disruptions and facilitate access to the information required to inform quick-response decisions. Disruptions may be the result of a health crisis, natural disaster or labor strike, yet despite these incidents, the supply chain and/or inventory levels of critical materials must be maintained throughout.
Moreover, since the supply chain is made up of an ecosystem of individual supply partners, having data about those suppliers in a centralized and easily accessible location along with third-party enrichment can vastly improve decision making in times of crisis.
Accordingly, leaders and decision makers will want to be able to answer the following questions in order to determine the health of their supply chain information:
Who do I currently buy these services or supplies from?
While this seems like a simple question, accessing the answer under challenging conditions is not always easy to determine. Government agencies should have an up to date supplier master, with full details about every product or service purchased from each supplier, contract terms, sales and service points of contact. In an ideal case, the current supplier will be the one delivering against a specific need, and therefore there should be no excuse for something as simple as a missing account representative email address or phone number that may result in a disruption in service.
Who else can supply this specific need?
If the current supplier is not available to deliver for whatever reason, alternate or similar suppliers may need to be identified and qualified. If the product or service category is known to have an elevated risk of disruption, the volume should be distributed between multiple qualified suppliers who can take on additional demand on short notice. The other option for finding products/raw materials is to approach a current supplier of a similar product to see if they can re-tool their current operation to produce the required goods or materials. During the current pandemic, many companies stepped up and converted production lines from clothing to masks or liquor to hand sanitizer, hence the importance of access to detailed supplier information.
What is the status of the raw materials in this supply chain?
Managing health at the supply chain level requires an understanding of how deep or complex the network is. How many steps are in the supply chain? How many links from a government supplier does it shift overseas—and to where? Being able to answer these and other questions quickly provides a clear understanding of time and risk, making it possible to proactively monitor those chains at greatest risk of disruption.
Which commodities and direct materials will have the greatest impact on cost?
Even in a crisis, costs still count. Being able to predict not just the price of an item, but changes in suppliers’ input costs is critical to the process of selecting sources or pre-qualifying alternative materials. For instance, even when a purchase is not directly for a material such as polypropylene, understanding that its cost is tied to the price of oil will prepare procurement to negotiate effectively and also allow highly volatile materials to be avoided (if possible) when setting specifications.
The source of a healthy, resilient supply chain can be achieved with good data and options. This information ensures that all decisions are made from a position of complete understanding. Qualifying more options allows the government to source across industries globally, ideally diversifying around risks and disruptions so that all of their vital tasks continue to be performed when they are needed most – in both the best and worst of times.
Stephany Lapierre is the founder and chief executive officer of Tealbook.