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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Globalization Presents Challenges that Require Supply Chain Risk Management

Everyone is talking about supply chain risk management, or SCRM. But what is it? And what’s driving the heightened interest?

Arguably, extreme phenomena — such as the tsunami in Indonesia and the nuclear incident in Japan — are more prevalent today and have a highly visible impact on supply chains. In truth, though, globalization has introduced new business realities that require companies to assess risk exposure more carefully and to prepare for potential disruptions.

Credit: David Castillo Dominici at

Credit: David Castillo Dominici at

As trade barriers fell and worldwide logistics improved, production shifted to lower-wage countries that offered lower sourcing costs, even despite the higher transportation, warehousing, and obsolescence costs associated with offshore sourcing. As this trend strengthened, a desire to “be in the game” pushed companies to move quickly into situations they didn’t understand (local regulations, social values, worker safety standards) and without thinking through the long-term logistics costs or future ability to reshore.

At the same time, new efficiencies of scale have eliminated barriers to market entry for all kinds of organizations in low-cost-producing countries like India, China, Bangladesh, and Mexico. This in turn is putting tremendous pressure on margins and forcing domestic firms to find creative ways to cut costs.

Finally, today’s consumers place great importance on ethical, safe, and sustainable business practices, so global companies must be aware of labor or environmental practices that their customers do not view favorably.

Together, these factors are forcing companies to implement formal SCRM plans and controls. But while many are talking about risk management, few have completely grasped what it takes to ensure a resilient, agile, and sustainable supply chain. And even fewer are making the changes necessary to mitigate risks.

What Companies Need to Do
Global and local organizations alike must be more prepared than ever for any event anywhere in the world that could force them to either find a new supply source or reroute their supply chains. To aid their ability to react, many companies are turning to complex new technologies that augment best practices. Others are exploring new, increasingly global sourcing options.

In addition, every organization needs to determine its risk tolerance in the following areas and implement the right supply chain management framework for its operations:

Product costs versus supply dependency. Switching to a low-cost supplier might mean being dependent. At the same time, mid-market organizations might not have the purchasing power and global sourcing opportunities that larger competitors have and thus might need to go with the lowest product cost just to compete.

Intellectual property exposure. Theft is on the rise, and standards (and enforcement) vary greatly by country. Large organizations might have the “pick of the litter” in terms of offshore manufacturers. Mid-sized manufacturers may not be so lucky.

Offshoring, outsourcing, nearshoring, or insourcing. Before determining the right business model, consider all relevant factors: wages, transportation costs, shipping times, training, workforce output, time to hire, quality, traceability, sustainability, local business practices, government policies, and restrictions, etc. And once you choose a business model, continue to re-evaluate it against your risk tolerance and business objectives.

Technology focus. New technologies emerge every day to “revolutionize” the supply chain, but not all technologies are alike. Focus on implementing and training your team on demand planning tools that actually predict and manage volatility, rather than on tools that give you point-in-time data or best estimate approximations. Focus on SCRM for mitigation and supply network planning and optimization and finally logistics monitoring and visibility tools.

Brand image. Today’s consumers have more options and want to know where products came from and how they were manufactured. What’s more, information is readily available to consumers, and with the prevalence of social media, bad news spreads fast. If you don’t know where all of your products are sourced from and who is making them, you could risk a PR nightmare that leads customers directly to competitors.

Being Successful Means Managing Uncertainty

How will you face so many uncertainties and potential challenges?  You certainly can’t control all external forces (political, natural disasters, energy costs, counterfeiting, and others), but you can start by making SCRM an integral part of your organization’s strategic planning process and redefining your internal practices and processes.

As you plan for the future and build on strengths, make sure you understand the risks and threats that could cause you to lose competitive advantage. All of your executives need to be involved in this process. In addition, you will need an emergency plan for new external or internal threats.

A proper SCRM plan is not about building fear in the organization, but rather about bringing peace of mind. Your organization will have taken the time to understand what is important and how to protect it, should a crisis happen. This will ultimately make your organization stronger and ready to take advantage of situations that cause others to flounder.


Yves Belanger is a director and industrial engineer specializing in workforce optimization. Yves Leclerc is a managing director and leads West Monroe’s supply chain practice and Canadian offices. 

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