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Going the distance: Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains

By Chris Jones, EVP of Marketing and Services, Descartes,

The spread of COVID-19 has upended businesses across virtually every industry and organisations are faced with the changes and challenges associated with adapting to this new normal.

While there's no denying that businesses must overcome a number of hurdles in the months to come, there are a variety of existing supply chain strategies and solutions today that can help to keep processes running as smoothly as possible. By leveraging some of the following tactics, organizations can help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their logistics operations, all while contributing to flattening the curve.

Enable Social Distancing

Despite shelter-in-place orders put into effect across the world, the distribution of goods must continue, which requires that organisations maintain their delivery workflows. While the delivery process often requires contact between two or more parties, there are a variety of ways in which organisations can practice social distancing while ensuring that shipments keep going the distance.

One of the most important to implement is a paperless process strategy. In addition to a proven reduction in operational costs and shortened payment cycles, paperless initiatives can protect employees and customers at a time when they need it most. As COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for hours, or in some cases even days, eliminating paper receipts and other documentation can help reduce the risk for drivers, customers and employees. With many companies having moved many of its employees to work-from-home, paperless processes are essential to operate. Paper cannot be easily shared in a highly distributed environment. Paperless processes help to keep your supply chain, and business, running smoothly.

Another method for limiting contact between parties in your supply chain is to reimagine proof-of-delivery (POD) processes. Rather than utilising standard signature captures, which require both drivers and customers to make contact with the same device, organisations can draw inspiration from social distancing measures to acknowledge delivery without direct contact. This includes taking a photo of the customer holding the delivered goods and giving a “thumbs up” or standing near delivered items instead of the normal process of “signing on glass” for the package. Both organisations and customers therefore have proof of delivery without putting either party at risk.

Lastly, organisations can better limit person-to-person interactions by automating their check-in and arrival processes for deliveries. Essentially, physical notifications are outdated—and can even add unnecessary time to a driver’s total stop time. By implementing key technologies like real-time, GPS-based truck tracking technologies, organizations are better positioned to send electronic arrival notifications to customers, ultimately allowing them greater time to prepare for deliveries and limiting the driver’s overall stop time.

Embrace the Need for Speed

The impact of COVID-19 is shaking up numerous core business functions. Given the severity of the pandemic, new regulations are being put in place by government entities all over the world, which require organisations to act now versus later.

In order to address adherence quickly, organizations should first review their current resources and determine what can still be leveraged in today’s environment—and be prepared to compromise when choosing practices. To improve responsiveness to change, organisations must try to focus on overall flexibility and time to results and optimize the most appropriate resources, services and technologies to meet their unique needs.

Shaking Up Sourcing

The spread of COVID-19 has unveiled significant weaknesses in many supply networks across the globe but between regulations, tariffs, varying material costs and more, selecting new sourcing locations is easier said than done. In order to maximize the success of these efforts, technology can play a significant role in expediting the process of identifying alternative sources of supply, analysing supply chain options to maximise resiliency and profit, and vetting trading partners to avoid fines and brand damage. For example, by tapping into global trade intelligence solutions, companies can review shipment data from across the world, look beyond specific supply chains to explore all companies shipping specific commodities into the U.S. or other countries, analyse information about the supply base and better determine new sourcing locations.

The Future of Your Fleet

The impact of the virus on logistics and supply chain operations varies tremendously. Some are experiencing a rapid slowdown and are left with excess capacity, whereas others are facing extreme spikes in demand and grappling with severe shortages in overall delivery capacity. In these instances, companies can look to route optimisation solutions. This type of technology offers strategic modeling scenarios to help companies rapidly evaluate potential delivery practices and policies and determine their best course of action. Using these types of solutions, organisations can enhance overall productivity by optimising route planning and execution, as well as evaluate opportunities to minimize fleet costs across the board.

Looking Ahead

While navigating a business landscape coping with COVID-19 is challenging, there are a variety of logistics and supply chain practices that organizations can implement to help ensure the safety and health of employees and customers alike. By pivoting strategies and tapping into certain practices and technology options, organisations are better positioned to mitigate risk and continue to drive forward in during these unpredictable times.

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