Supply Chains are Okay…But for How Long?

When COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. in March, people experienced first-hand the fallout of poorly designed supply chains. The stockpiling engaged in by both homes and shopping outlets made headlines, while shortages of critical items—like PPE and ventilators—accelerated the pandemic’s spread and heightened its risk. The crisis demanded that supply chains swiftly adapt to operating with a limited capacity in times of increased demand, while ensuring the safety of their frontline workers. Months later, supply chain operators have learned valuable lessons on how to handle the pressures of a global pandemic. But with COVID-19 case numbers on the rise, some people are worried that they will once again overwhelm supply chains and leave us without critical supplies.

2020 has supplied no shortage of hard-won wisdom. Fortunately, that includes knowing the necessary precautions for holding steady in this global health crisis. However, there’s little doubt that COVID-19 is not the final act but is a harbinger of future large-scale disruptions still to come. Unfortunately, there have been few structural, progressive changes to modernize global supply chains. As a result, our economy and our society remain susceptible to another major shock. The writing is on the wall. Now is the time to invest in the future and make supply chains dynamic. With agile processes and modern technologies, supply chains can adapt in real-time no matter what happens in the world around us.



Dealing with the Immediate Challenges of COVID-19

For supply chains, one of the first challenges the pandemic presented was effectively managing a hands-on operation with an entirely remote workforce. Supply chains grappled with coordinating employees who worked from home, while ensuring the safety and health of frontline workers who stayed on the ground. Protecting those workers meant enforcing safety protocols that slowed down an already hampered supply process. While most organizations admirably rose to the challenge of working within these limitations, they also found themselves face-to-face with the undeniable weakness of their supply chains as a whole.

COVID exposed deep-rooted vulnerabilities that had been created by a generation of relentless pressure to increase supply chain efficiency. After decades of cost-cutting, supply chains were entirely unable to handle the series of complications presented by COVID. Take, for instance, the meat industry, which experienced serious supply chain disruptions due to frontline workers who caught the virus. These companies were no longer able to push out their products at the same velocity: a setback that simultaneously resulted in heavy product loss and ongoing shortages they’re still grappling with today. While most companies took similar punches, not everyone stayed down. Another example is Elementum user Vitamix, who faced the dual challenge of increased demand and limited supply because of increased online orders and restricted inventory. Vitamix managed to save its operations by shifting its focus to building a supply chain powered by the right technology + exception management practices, which can identify disruptions early and resolve them proactively in a data-driven, efficient manner. As Vitamix’s Manager of Planning and Logistics Cait Risacher explained,

“It was quickly apparent that Elementum saved us time in unnecessary meetings and helped us address root causes. The platform also allowed us to resolve incidents faster. All of this led to protecting $50M of revenue in under 4 months.”

A Dynamic Approach To Supply Chain

Fortunately, it’s possible to implement best practices without the type of intensive and laborious overhaul that many experts like to preach. With a supply chain management platform like Elementum, organizations can have: 

  • A single source of truth that aligns team communication and workflow based on real-time activity
  • Clear accountability within your team for identifying and assigning incident resolution
  • Powerful analytics that expose trends and identify root causes

The change to a dynamic supply chain won’t happen overnight, but it can also happen faster than you think. Organizational alignment tends to be the most challenging part. We often recommend starting small with a single site or product, for example, to serve as a proof point in order to build internal support. Most teams can be up and running with new dynamic processes in under a month, and it’s typical to see expansion to additional teams within 3-6 months.

There are a lot of reasons to be concerned with the surge in COVID cases, but I’m not worried about another supply chain shut down like we saw in March. However, I do know that future disruptions—caused by anything from natural disasters to trade wars—will occur. We owe it to ourselves to take common-sense steps to be prepared. I’d be happy to talk with you about dynamic supply chain solutions and what they can provide for your organization. Please reach out at, or visit our website:



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