The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on many things.
It has shown just how small the world has become and how quickly things can change. It has highlighted the tremendous sacrifices that our healthcare workers make by risking their lives daily to care for others. It has reminded many of us how important our friends and family are.
It has also put a spotlight on the transportation industry and, for the most part, that has been a good thing. I have read more articles and social media posts of late recognizing the efforts of truck drivers than what I typically see during the annual National Truck Driver Appreciation Week. And it is not just the drivers who should be recognized, but the planners, logistics analysts and transportation managers who have shared the responsibility of keeping goods moving.
However, with good almost always comes bad. Just as this crisis has reminded us of the value and importance of the transportation function, it has also put a spotlight on inefficiencies. In the early days of the lockdown in China, many organizations lacked visibility in their supply chain and scrambled to locate shipments and products.
As panic buying began in the United States, shelves were stripped clean of staple goods such as milk, rice, beans and yes, toilet paper. This forced some grocery chains to send trucks direct to manufacturers for pickups as the limited inventories of a just-in-time scenario were quickly wiped out. With stay-at-home orders in place for many parts of the world, the increasing volume of home deliveries for groceries and meals taxed transportation services such as Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash.
All the challenges and inefficiencies that have been highlighted during the pandemic have only served to showcase the importance of technology in transportation. Supply chain organizations that had already made the investment in foundational transportation technologies, as seen below, have been in a better position to manage the recent challenges.
While not every organization requires or utilizes all these technologies, for those that already use one or more, the benefits had already been proven prior to the pandemic. In some form, each of these technologies helps organizations to improve:
- Visibility, both for physical goods and transparency to costs
- Productivity for drivers, carriers and transportation employees
- Customer satisfaction for consumers, carriers and internal stakeholders
- Operating and support costs
My sense is that every supply chain organization dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 would be glad to have more visibility, higher productivity and customer satisfaction while doing a better job of controlling costs.
Looking ahead, supply chain organizations must start to plan for a post-pandemic world. In this world, buying behaviors may be altered, previous suppliers may no longer be in business and budgets for technology-related projects may be slashed or eliminated.
I wrote a blog last August talking about investing in supply chain technology, advising “don’t wait for the right time”. In it, I talked about how companies often get ahead or widen competitive advantages by not being risk averse in uncertain times. One wonders if some companies who kept waiting for the “right time” may no longer get the chance to find it.
For those who do get a second chance, the value and importance of transportation technology should never be clearer. As hard decisions are being made regarding budgets and allocations for IT projects, supply chain leaders need only look to the past few months for inspiration. Doing so will aid their fight to keep planned projects alive or push to have transportation technology jump in front of other investments.
A few tips for supply chain leaders who will be in this position very soon:
- Start building key arguments and use cases to support your business case now; remember, don’t wait for the “right time”
- Leverage examples, case studies and use cases taking place with COVID-19 as evidence for your business case
- Link the value of the investment to organizational objectives
- Calculate the total cost of ownership
- Talk with vendors, your peers and industry analysts to understand realistic implementation timeframes
Supply chain and transportation are often among the first functions tasked with finding cost savings during a downturn. However, supply chain has been in the spotlight during the pandemic and may be at its zenith in terms of respect and appreciation. Supply chain leaders must use this as an opportunity to ensure they have the right technology in place for future crises.
Finally, a personal thank you. For any individual who is working in the transportation industry, thank you. Sincerely, thank you. So often we take for granted how things arrive to our department and grocery stores, restaurants and homes. As consumers, we just expect everything we need to be there without fail. Supply chains can be very complex. Without the transportation component you can have all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the world, but it will not get into the hands of those who need it.
Gartner Supply Chain