The supply chain has undergone a dramatic shift in the past two years, to the point that processes we once took for granted can no longer be expected to run smoothly. The pandemic is largely to blame, although shifts in the workforce have also made their mark — as have evolving customer expectations. The result? Major uncertainty, which can make a variety of seemingly ordinary operations difficult to handle.

Thankfully, there’s a major silver lining: new technologies can handle a variety of unprecedented challenges. If you know which supply chain challenges lie ahead — and which solutions are most likely to mitigate these issues — your enterprise will be better capable of maintaining peak efficiency and profitability regardless of which issues 2022 sends your way.

Supply Chain Management Challenges

To illuminate the complications that play into today’s unreliable supply chain, we’ve highlighted a few of the most pressing management concerns. Some of these may be more relevant to your industry or situation than others, but all of these issues are worth addressing:

Disruptions in the Global Supply Chain

Even the smallest disruptions to the global supply chain can have a ripple effect, to the point that a modest shortage or delay in one region (or sector) could prove devastating in areas that seem unrelated. Once a global pandemic enters the equation, it’s easy to see why reliable operations feel so out of reach.

The global supply chain saw its fair share of struggles even before the chaos of the pandemic, but the real difficulties began as the new reality started to set in — in early 2020, when production saw huge slowdowns as COVID wreaked havoc in Asia. Since then, it’s never had a true chance to recover, with COVID surges and variants fueling everything from labor shortages to raw material bottlenecks.

Unfortunately, SMBs have little control over the present-day supply chain. Disruptions are almost certain to continue. It’s virtually impossible to prevent these altogether, but there are ample opportunities to shift responses to these inevitable issues.

Risk management planning is an essential strategy for navigating the only certainty that remains: the uncertain supply chain. This means determining which circumstances are most likely to disrupt operations.

Risk management plans must be thorough — and they must address every point on the supply chain, as well as the potential for both internal and external problems.

Automation is key for anticipating and mitigating supply chain disruptions. Solutions such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can address:

  • Labor shortages
  • Limited throughput
  • Reduced availability of raw materials
  • Safety or compliance concerns

Data Visibility

Because the supply chain is so difficult to predict these days, data visibility is more important than ever.

It’s impossible to make meaningful changes until you know what is happening and where top problems occur. This concept seems simple, but it can be surprisingly difficult to execute. Ideally, data visibility will encompass real-time analytics such as raw material status, fill rates, or cycle times.

Visibility extends beyond simply collecting relevant data. It should also encompass dissemination. This concept is known as data democratization — and it references the need for data to be made available throughout the entirety of the supply chain. Only then can effective supply chain planning occur.

Customer Expectations Heightened

Pandemic-induced supply chain issues would have been problematic enough in the midst of constant material and labor shortages, but these issues have been exacerbated by swift changes to customer expectations and behaviors.

Today’s consumers are more demanding than ever — but also more likely to turn to eCommerce to meet their heightened demands. Many are spending more time at home, so they’re willing to allocate extra funds to make their quarantines or social distancing efforts easier to handle. With this higher spending, however, comes lofty expectations, especially in regards to the timing of order fulfillment and shipping.

At this point, customers simply aren’t willing to wait. Even if they’re aware of the constant disruptions, they assume that they can order and receive the products they desire within a few short days.

Major corporations have stepped up with one or two-day shipping, but customers are beginning to expect that smaller enterprises follow suit. This places a huge burden on SMBs, especially as they navigate supply chain uncertainty. Small businesses can’t be expected to emulate Amazon shipping times, but customers have yet to realize this.

Thankfully, several advancements and opportunities allow SMBs to meet or even exceed customers’ lofty expectations. Route optimization software, for example, integrates with scheduling systems to enhance driver availability. This advanced software also accounts for potential issues such as limited vehicle ability or unexpected scheduling constraints. Incorporate electronic proof of delivery (ePOD) into your route planning strategy to enhance monitoring and determine the circumstances behind unacceptable delays.

Consumer Demand Fluctuations

Despite early fears of shrinking customer demand, the pandemic has not had the devastating impact on consumer spending that some initially predicted. If anything, spending has increased dramatically in certain sectors.

eCommerce, for example, is thriving as customers continue to enjoy the convenience of online shopping habits they developed during the early lockdowns. Stimulus spending has likely helped, but it’s also produced an element of unpredictability; it’s difficult to determine whether or when customers will go on a spending spree.

As a result, scalability is prized like never before. Businesses must be capable of rapidly ramping up production and fulfillment to keep a growing or shrinking customer base happy. That’s not to say patterns have disappeared altogether; they just look different now. Strong data collection can help businesses make sense of this new normal — and adjust accordingly.

Inventory Management Challenges

Effective inventory management is crucial for limiting lead times in the supply chain. Unfortunately, a whole host of issues get in the way. Visibility is a definite source of concern, as is outdated tech.

Some enterprises avoid these issues by implementing advanced asset tracking or POS systems, but this approach sometimes backfires. If multiple systems are used but remain poorly integrated, the vast volumes of data they produce cannot be properly disseminated or analyzed.

Another issue? An enduring reliance on manual processes. While most business leaders are well aware of the benefits that automation can deliver, many still struggle to implement these alternatives. It’s simply too easy to remain stuck in the status quo. Unfortunately, those who fail to switch up their approach will continue to suffer excessively high operational expenses.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) can produce an immediate boost in visibility. Under this approach, systems of tags and readers provide a wealth of data while bypassing delays produced by barcode-oriented line-of-sight scanning. Similarly, machine vision boosts efficiency, but with human-like visual perception. RFID and machine vision can work wonderfully together to transform inventory tracking.

Productivity in Workflows

Small workflow changes can produce huge boosts to productivity, even while dealing with the major challenges outlined above. First, however, it’s important to determine which everyday processes cause unacceptable slowdowns — and how advanced technology can be implemented to resolve these issues.

As mentioned previously, automation will often prove the most viable solution. This can be implemented through numerous strategies, such as fixed industrial scanning, machine vision, and, as previously mentioned, RFID. At minimum, voice-directed services should be used to help employees avoid visual scanning, which can waste a shocking amount of time.

Facing These Challenges in 2022

If the above issues are any indication, it’s basically impossible to predict with any accuracy how the supply chain will evolve in 2022. If we can predict anything at this point, it’s that the supply chain will remain stubbornly unpredictable. As such, it behooves businesses to develop flexible, data-heavy solutions that make it possible to pivot at a moment’s notice.

Businesses that manage to mitigate these challenges will hold a huge competitive advantage, to the point that the challenges brought about by the pandemic just might lead to transformative breakthroughs.

Peak Technologies will help you rise to the occasion. With our assistance, you can continue to satisfy customer demands as you deal with the complications of the modern supply chain. Our team can help you determine which automated solutions will prove most effective for your operation. From there, we’ll assist with customization and implementation. You’ll be amazed by how swiftly our approach leads to lower operating costs and happier customers. Contact us today to get started.