Smart technology helped SA weather double supply chain whammy

Johannesburg, 01 Sep 2021
Read time 4min 40sec
Vibhu Kapoor, Regional Vice-President, Epicor Software, Middle East, Africa & India.
Vibhu Kapoor, Regional Vice-President, Epicor Software, Middle East, Africa & India.

The negative fallout from the double whammy experienced by South Africa’s supply chains in recent months – first as a result of COVID-19 and then the recent riots and looting in KZN and parts of Gauteng – would have been far worse had strides not been made in the adoption of smart supply chain technology.

That’s the view of Vibhu Kapoor, Regional Vice-President of Epicor Software, Middle East, Africa & India, who points out that the impact of COVID-19 has posed what is probably the greatest challenge to global supply chains since the Second World War.

“Supply chain professionals had to dig deep, make instant decisions and take precedented and ingenious action to keep their businesses running and to ensure they continued to serve their customers as best they can. Think of how medical supplies from PPE and oxygen to vaccines, food and other life-saving essentials have continued to reach their intended markets – albeit after some initial disruptions – despite lockdowns, closed borders and shuttered manufacturing and warehousing facilities,” he says.

In a survey of the US Fortune 1000 companies early in the pandemic, 94% complained of experiencing supply chain disruptions. Anecdotal evidence indicated that South African businesses of all sizes, were similarly affected.

But just as things appeared to be getting back to what passes for normal today, along came the violence sparked initially by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma.

Port, rail and road transportation was disrupted, affecting virtually everything that needed to be moved between Gauteng and KZN and resulting in shortages of food, including bread, as well as medicines and other essentials in many areas.

Commenting on the situation – and urging consumers not to resort to panic buying – MJ Schoemaker, president of SAPICS (the professional body for supply chain management), noted that the riot-fed disruptions would “test and stretch our supply chains as rarely experienced before”.

Nevertheless, she maintained that the many lessons that had been learned from the pandemic, including supply chain managers refining their risk mitigation strategies, had not only seen the country through the various COVID-19 lockdowns, but would assist in helping them to cope with both the current and future disruptions.

Epicor’s Kapoor agrees, adding that much of the success achieved by supply chain professionals over the past 18 months can be attributed in large measure to their willingness to embrace smart supply chain technology.

“A smart supply chain is an efficient supply chain – and it’s efficient because there is transparency and a clear understanding of where bottlenecks exist or have the potential to occur. This is possible because of the vast amount of data is generated up and down the supply chain, enabling weak links to be identified and strengthened in order to minimise the impact of potential supply chain shocks,” he explains.

Technologies like IOT, for example, are increasingly being used to take smart supply chains one step further, by enabling them to become self-organising and self-optimising. IOT’s smart sensors are being used to provide real-time information into areas ranging from inventory to just-in-time delivery and smart warehousing, effectively creating visibility across the entire supply chain.

“Data collected in this way can be analysed to provide insights into anticipated demand, thus helping to optimise sourcing and drive data-based decision-making,” Kapoor says.

According to Kapoor, the first step in the development of a smart supply chain is digitisation that harnesses the power of the cloud to enable a comprehensive, data-driven picture of the organisation itself. The insights gained through this approach can then be shared with other, external links in the supply chain, so that each participant in the chain is able to react and adjust their supply according to demand, all in real-time.

“It’s all about an autonomous, or hyperconnected supply chain with the ultimate goal being achieving the maximum visibility of information across all its links. In the past, it simply wasn’t feasible to manually collect the huge volume of data that underpin today’s smart supply chains. Yet, in today’s uncertain times, smart supply chains are no longer nice-to-haves. They have become critical to our economic and – in the case of disruptions to the provision of critical supplies like food and medicines in time of crisis – societal survival,” he says.

He points out that there will always be disruptive events that pose a threat to supply chains. These can be as big as the next global pandemic, or as isolated as a small, localised flood, but smart supply chains have a better chance of successfully mitigating these risks.

“True supply chain optimisation means being able to deal with the anomalies rather than the norm. Ultimately, the key is to be able to collect as much data as possible in order to increase visibility across the entire supply chain. The smart supply chain will take care of the larger data points and allow for self-optimisation to some extent, making it easier for supply chain professionals to deal with the myriad smaller, sudden changes and disruptions they face every day faster and more effectively,” he concludes. 

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