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Supply Chain and First-Mover Advantages: Insights From the Frontlines of the Pandemic

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Global supply chains, the bedrock of our modern world, have endured disruption since the onset of COVID-19, making it imperative for business leaders to act now to ensure both the immediate and long-term economic success of their enterprises.

Indeed, in my 35 years in the transportation and supply chain business, I have never witnessed a more challenging environment for companies working to safeguard supply, respond to new market demands and create a sustainable operating model for the months and years to come.

The silver lining here? We are seeing some remarkable innovation as businesses deploy new technologies, redirect sourcing, rethink the mix of air, ocean and ground transportation modes and accelerate investments in automation and robotic systems.

This multifaceted agility was on full display during a recent webinar UPS hosted on how to overcome the supply chain challenges of today and tomorrow, featuring Rich Hutchinson of Boston Consulting Group and myself. Our conversation showcased how companies are pivoting to serve their customers and communities — and just how dramatically they’ve overhauled business plans in a matter of weeks.

Webinar: How to Overcome Supply Chain Challenges Today — and Tomorrow

Redesigning supply chains

We’ve been in the trenches with a number of such businesses, each exhibiting a willingness to innovate, think creatively and retool supply chains for agility and resilience.

While there is still much we don’t know about the future of this pandemic, we do know the path to economic recovery will be challenging across industries. For companies to survive, or even thrive, they need to incorporate new innovations into their business models at a record-setting pace.

In fact, today we’re seeing the equivalent of two or three years of business innovation compressed into just a few months. Leaders will recognize this new business environment, overhaul their strategies and tap into sustainable growth opportunities in the face of disruption.

Gaining ground

We know from our own experience that high-performing companies tend to see a major crisis as an opportunity to gain ground in terms of share or position in the marketplace.

The reason for this is twofold. In many crisis situations, competitors are less likely to make big moves, giving the bold a first-mover advantage. The second is cost. In times of crisis, assets need to move quickly, whether talent or technology or even a merger and acquisition. And some are reluctant to put funding behind such actions.

“It’s important to start thinking now about how consumer and customer behavior will change along with potential shifts in digital technology, marketing, sales and all forms of supply chain management.”

So the opportunity to move forward exists by taking care of the fundamentals but then using this period of uncertainty to make smart and decisive moves that will sustain long-term growth and development.

That said, we all need to be prepared to manage through various stages of disruption for the immediate future, and we all need to be comfortable managing and leading in a new normal.

Leading the pack

It’s important to start thinking now about how consumer and customer behavior will change along with potential shifts in digital technology, marketing, sales and all forms of supply chain management.

Successful businesses of the future will look at how consumer behavior today is changing and understand what it means for a post-coronavirus world. E-commerce and virtual selling, for instance, are primed for continual development, as are all facets of analytics.

Investments in technology, especially those focused on digital marketing and next-generation sales that create tighter connections with customers, will become the new normal. Shifting from field sales to more inside and connected relationships with customers is essential.

Similarly, using advanced analytics and digital dashboards will be critical to accelerating the visibility and control over numerous aspects of our businesses, whether that is the supply chain, manufacturing or operating infrastructure.

“We have to look deep into the future of work and how employees may want to engage with companies differently.”

And then finally, we have to look deep into the future of work and how employees may want to engage with companies differently. In recent weeks, several of our customers expressed surprise at how well their employees were performing in work-from-home situations.

Certainly this experience will play into future work routines and cultures. While many workers and managers will prefer to go back to their normal office structure, other employees will feel more empowered and productive in telework situations.

Just like their supply chain and product mix, smart companies and managers will identify the best workplace design and act on it. They’ll move fast and turn those insights into advantages that serve their people, customers and communities for years to come.

It’s how they’ll lead the pack — and win both today and tomorrow.

This article was adapted from a recent UPS webinar with Boston Consulting Group on overcoming supply chain challenges. You can listen to the webinar here.

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Longitudes explores and navigates the trends reshaping the global economy and the way we’ll live in the world of tomorrow: logistics, technology, e-commerce, trade and sustainability. Which path will you take?

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