In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Supply Chain Institute, housed in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, engaged more than 200 participants in its first-ever online Supply Chain Forum, April 15-16, 2020. Event organizers said the strong attendance, despite currently intensified workloads in the industry, did not surprise them.
“This crisis has only amplified the importance of supply chain management,” Mary Long, director of the Supply Chain Forum, says. “The boundary-spanning nature of our discipline puts us at the center during triage and transformation.”
Session topics centered around the pandemic and how it is straining supply chains worldwide. In a panel discussion about the healthcare supply chain amidst the crisis, Régine Villain of Ochsner Health System, Gil Kanner of Pharmalink and Cynthia Valaitis of HealthPRO weighed in on how established supply chain vulnerabilities—like a lack of transparency—are creating health risks.
“We’ve always talked about how there are particular regions of the world where we tend to store the majority of product, but I think we never understood until recently how heavy our reliance on one location is,” Villain said. “When you follow the breadcrumbs, you might think you have four or five suppliers, but they’re actually being supplied from the same place.”
Randy Bradley, associate professor of information technology and supply chain management at Haslam, moderated the discussion. He said the healthcare industry’s experience shows a path forward for all supply chain managers post-pandemic.
“Cooperation, even between competitors, is going to become more vital if we’re going to build a more resilient supply chain,” Bradley said. “Transparency needs to be built in at various tiers and risk management needs to become a core capability. And that risk management extends to the boots on the ground—protecting and investing in personnel. It starts and ends with the people.”
Marianne Wanamaker, associate professor of economics and former chief domestic economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisors, apprised forum members of the pandemic’s economic effects. She said the U.S. is in a full-blown recession and warned that businesses should not expect a full economic recovery for several quarters, if not years. She did not believe, however, that the crisis would overhaul the global supply chain structure.
“It’s a massive crisis, and it’s going to take us a long time to recover,” she said. “But at the same time, our global connectivity brings massive benefits. Even if you right-size your supply chains, it’s the flow of people, not the flow of goods and services, that spreads the virus.”
The Global Supply Chain Institute also released three pieces of core research as part of the forum: its usual two white papers and an update to the EPIC Global Supply Chain Risk Assessment index, which provides a framework for assessing supply chain risk and readiness by region across the globe. It was authored in collaboration with CSCMP and IHS Markit.
For its white paper, “Managing Cyber Risks in Global Supply Chains: The Four Fundamentals,” the institute interviewed cyber experts from more than 30 organizations to outline supply chain professionals’ cyber security risks and responsibilities. The second white paper, “End-to-End Supply Chain Synchronization,” offers a path for synchronizing physical assets, business processes and people systems with key business drivers to achieve total value in the supply chain. Leidos, a global leader in information technology integration, sponsored the paper on cyber risks, and Maine Pointe, a global supply chain consulting firm, sponsored the paper on synchronization.
The Supply Chain Forum app gave forum members multiple opportunities to network virtually—either through one-on-one sessions with the institute’s faculty via Calendly or with one another through the Virtual Café. The app also provided access to student résumés in lieu of in-person speed networking session and receptions.
The Global Supply Chain Institute plans for the fall Supply Chain Forum to progress as usual on November 10-12, but it has built its agenda with the ability to pivot from on-campus to virtual sessions if necessary. Registration for the fall forum is currently open.
Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist (firstname.lastname@example.org)