Supply Chain management and Cybersecurity are usually seen by CxOs and the Board as necessary evils, soiled signposts along the road to growth. Both are highly operational, and the heroes doing these jobs are usually only recognized when something goes wrong. But can strategic Supply Chain management be a competitive advantage, a true growth accelerator, in the post COVID world?
We believe it can, especially in our new world of pandemics and major supply chain interruptions. In this article, I want to describe two case studies of strategic Supply Chain management we were asked to undertake during the two most recent pandemics: H1N1 and COVID. The panicked origins and the strategic potential arising from these engagements have spurred us to a new appreciation for innovative and highly agile Supply Chain management in a world of increasing asymmetry.
In late Q3 2009, I received a panicked call from the Head of Procurement of Novartis’ Vaccines division (since sold to GSK) in Italy. He asked if we could conduct an emergency analysis of the global Supply Chain for chicken eggs. Why chicken eggs? Because chicken eggs are a main component of non-recombinant flu vaccines, and with the WHO officially identifying the H1N1 flu as a pandemic, the vaccine manufacturers realized their capacity for supplying an infected global patient base today would come down to how many chicken eggs they could procure yesterday. We turned out a proposal in 24 hours, and won the engagement. Focusing on demand-side and supply-side primary research, we conducted over 100 interviews across the globe, delivering a highly tuned model for scenario analysis that provided short-term and long-term, data-driven Supply Chain management for the production of the flu vaccines available at that time. The client was happy, the pandemic quickly subsided, and we all moved on to the next thing.
Then in early Q2 2020, the world realized COVID was the next thing, at least the next pandemic thing. This time, one of my key colleagues in our Israel office received a panicked call from a highly placed member of the government, a very senior contact in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO needed an emergency analysis conducted to ensure the country’s supply of strategic pharmaceutical products (especially antibiotics and other front line therapies) could be supplied for the nation’s entire population, in case infection rates soared. Our brilliant and fast-paced team in Israel and London jumped all over this request, and we conducted the analysis with lightning speed, identifying two major choke points in the supply chain for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) in two major Asian countries. Again, the client was happy, and the patient numbers were not as high as expected, so the country dodged the bullet.
So, why the panic in both cases? Because one of the Top 10 global Pharma companies and one of the most agile central governments on the earth were unprepared. Both the Pharma company and the central government were taken by surprise because their assumption was that pandemics and other potentially massive Supply Chain interruptions are rare, one-off events.
But if you consider the trajectory of this new millennium thus far, you will see a pattern emerging. In 2002-2004 we had the SARS virus. In 2009-2010 we had the H1N1 pandemic. Between 2012 and 2015, with another resurgence in 2018, we had alarming outbreaks of the MERS virus. Now, since Q1 2020, we have COVID, the latest pandemic. I was discussing this sequence of events recently with new contacts at Novartis, who also noted the Ebola scares in Africa in recent years, and we all agreed we have to think differently about the threats these outbreaks – and other geopolitically driven supply shocks – can represent to our businesses and our countries going forward in our brave new world.
So, we at Frost & Sullivan are now in the process of developing an Innovation Generator approach to the management of global Supply and Value Chains, processing secondary and primary research within a machine learning and AI engine designed to give our clients a genuine competitive advantage in understanding supply and value chain dynamics in real time, all the time. Burying our heads in the sands and moving onto the next thing, and then panicking once the next supply shock occurs is the old, tired and operational approach to Supply Chain management. But an Innovation Generator engine that tracks supply and value chain dynamics in real time, detects fluctuations and offers immediate solutions, is the way forward, turning this side of the business into a growth engine enabling you and your company to grab market share and grow your business amid dire circumstances, unforeseen supply shocks, and the next pandemic … because they are certainly coming.