Those who enjoy hiking into deep wilderness wouldn’t take a single step without first equipping themselves against all anticipated hazards. They pack food, warm clothing, sleeping bags, tent, tools, flashlight: the usual list of items to ensure comfort and survival in rough conditions. But how stuffed must the backpack be, to prepare for every eventuality — especially when the nature of the threat to be encountered is completely unknown?
Having weathered three years of unprecedented adversity, supply chain planners don’t know what to pack anymore. Should they beef up inventories, build more warehouses, shift sourcing, double down on technology investment, hire or fire more people? The trail leading to the future is poorly marked, if at all. And the destination is obscured by clouds of uncertainty.
It's not all bad. Most would agree that we’re in a somewhat better place than a year ago, when fewer people were vaccinated against COVID-19, fuel prices were soaring, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was shutting down access to critical raw materials, hundreds of containerships were stalled outside Southern California ports due to bottlenecks in the supply chain, freight rates were spiking, and inventories of essential consumer goods were seesawing between shortage and glut.
We’re not out of those particular woods yet — while containers have mostly resumed their normal flow, inflation remains a concern, and labor shortages continue to hamper the efficient distribution of goods, even as nervous tech companies shed thousands of workers. Economists can’t agree on when or whether we’re due for a recession (or, for that matter, whether we’re already in one), and the Russia-Ukraine war, along with other geopolitical tensions, continues to threaten the stability of global supply chains.
So which ideas, strategies and tools do companies need to navigate through the coming year and beyond?
We’re here to help. In this, our annual Supply Chain Management Resource Guide, we feature the contributions of experts from all corners of the industry. They run the gamut from planning to execution, from procurement to final delivery to the end user. And while none of them can lay claim to a crystal ball, their insights into the current plight of supply chain executives, and range of options for making it through this year, are invaluable.
Topics include trends in trucking, procurement strategy, the coming of electric vehicles, the role of artificial intelligence and machine learning in decision-making, the correct handling of hazardous materials, modern-day warehouse management, the future of logistics outsourcing, trade regulation and compliance, enterprise software applications, omnichannel retailing, supply chain visibility, and much more.
To be sure, we’ve covered all of these topics many times before, and expect to follow their progress as the year goes on. But we see a difference now in the way that global businesses are approaching the discipline of supply chain management. In the past, to prepare for any unforeseen disruption, they would be looking to stuff that metaphorical backpack with every imaginable tool. And that makes for one heavy and expensive hike.
Instead, the shift in thinking today is toward becoming agile enough to cope with whatever obstacle might lie in the path ahead. No strategy is set in stone — we’ve seen planning horizons shrink steadily in recent years, to the point where there’s barely any space between demand planning and execution anymore. And when it comes to sourcing, manufacturers that placed all of their proverbial eggs in the China basket aren’t contemplating a wholesale abandonment of that country’s low-cost infrastructure. Instead, they’re looking to mitigate risk by diversifying their supplier base among multiple regions of the world (and in some cases, bringing them back to the U.S.). For supply chain executives on the long hike to success, the mantra today is: Pack light, and be ready for anything.
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