Managing Supply Chains During Covid-19


By Tendai Tomu

Since the beginning of 2020, we have been at a standstill and left dumb-founded as the novel coronavirus pandemic reached every corner of the globe. 

With e-commerce markets being more connected than ever before, it is unsurprising to see companies struggling to communicate with vendors in the red zone areas. According to a whitepaper by Dun and Bradstreet, 94% of the Fortune 1000 companies have some primary components of their supply chain linked to the world’s biggest market for industrial goods and the first country to be impacted by the pandemic: China.

Supply chain issues are posing severe challenges to survival for startups across all sectors. Thus, understanding what is happening in the region where you manufacture goods and the scale of successive waves of infections is crucial. 

Adapt and aid 

The ongoing breakdown in the traditionally established supply chain dynamics accelerates the need for startups to look to local production and sourcing. But more importantly, it’s now the most opportune moment for startups to step up and contribute meaningfully to supply chain issues in the health sector.

For example, an Italian 3D printing company quickly printed valves for life-saving ventilators to meet the supply shortage (The Independent). Such efforts have led to the implementation of cheaper, faster, and reliable supply chains for these critical machines. 

The same case is happening in the cosmetics and personal care industry; LVMH, L’Oréal, and Coty, and others have repurposed production facilities intended for fragrances and hair gels to produce hand sanitizers, which were distributed free of charge in many cases. 

Realign your operational processes

Startups that have had their supply chains severely affected or made extinct by Covid-19 can consider finding a pandemic supply chain-related project for which their technology or production process is well-suited to piggyback on, gaining visibility and relevance within their markets. The most prominent example, which most restaurants around the world have done, is to add food delivery to its offering. 

Now is also the best time to wring overlooked inefficiencies out of the company’s operations, which means doing away with non-essential parts of the business, identifying new sources of revenue without making new capital investments, and relying on their existing labor force.

Startups should also focus on equipping employees who handle food, logistics, or delivery with personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep workers and consumers safe. Stocking up on PPE early on can help mitigate the risk of shortage, especially if new waves of infection leads to panic buying again.

Diversify your supply chain

The organizations that are most likely to emerge from the crisis stronger than ever have diversified their operations and implemented multi-sourcing strategies. According to the World Economic Forum, the supply disruption has left many global manufacturing companies scrambling to find secondary or tertiary suppliers, or moving some core business functions back to their factories. Startups that take steps to diversify their operations now can direct their energy toward maximizing the deployment of the resources still available.

Leverage technology

In the longer term, startups can benefit from using tech to stimulate demand and supply end-to-end within and across the organization. Technologies that provide inventory visibility across the distribution network (e.g., distribution centers, shops, vendors, third-party providers, and wholesale inventory) offer significant benefits for flexibility and transparency to serve customers in the best possible way given supply limitations.

Technologies such as AI, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain can be used to help link multiple buyers with multiple vendors reliably across a ‘mesh’ of supply chains. For example, companies like ClearMetal, a predictive supply chain visibility company, are using AI to deliver real-time, end-to-end inventory visibility in global transit.

Another example is Freight Trust, a blockchain startup focusing on providing vertically-integrated solutions for the supply chain and logistics industry. It employs several cutting-edge features, such as electronic Bills of Landing, blockchain audit trails, and predictive AI.

It is essential to keep to heart that eventually, we will get through Covid-19. But if we don’t learn anything after this, then we’re in trouble. 

Tendai is a blockchain and cryptocurrency consultant based in Zimbabwe. 

About the Author

Tendai is a blockchain and cryptocurrency consultant who enjoys writing about technology as well as following financial developments in emerging economies. He is also a Founding Partner and the CFO of Blockwood Capita. Tendai’s book about Facebook’s Libra Coin and its potential impact on the African continent was published in 2019.


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