Managing global supply chains in the Covid-19 crisis: Part 2

We’re all noticing the incoherence and disruption arising from Covid-19, especially in our local supermarkets, shops and essential retailers.

07 April 2020

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By Adrian Williamson, Innovation Funding Consultant at ABGI-UK

Part 2 – Enterprise resource Planning

If the global supply chain has worked hard over recent years to diversify, then why are local outlets struggling to stock shelves and supply essential needs on a daily basis?

Well, the problem and the solution are rooted in technology, and the vagaries of our shopping habits. My local supermarket has a history of delivering over Saturday so that on opening Sunday morning, the store is full of produce and supplies for the coming week, with sell-by dates until the next weekend. Shoppers have learnt this, and the car park is full on Sunday morning as they seek to complete a successful weekly shop. However, come Covid-19, and the shelves were bare by Monday evening. And stayed that way, with fridges and freezers empty for days, apart from minor deliveries of consumables such as bread. What had happened?

The Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence components within the Enterprise Resource Planning technology used has carefully learnt the shoppers’ behaviours, and equally carefully optimised stocking and deliveries to suit: this is good for the environment after all, reducing waste, reducing journeys and indeed required shelf space and staff for a given supply. Good stuff. However, a shock change to buying and recovery is slow, as the system with its dependent parts attempts to adjust and learn, scheduling things like deliveries with physically constrained resources. At my larger supermarket, some miles away, the scarcity is less pronounced as that same technology has learnt that the regular large volumes of goods sold demands increased range, volume and frequency of deliveries, so keeping the store at generally higher levels than my local outlet. Of course, it’s great to know that these systems are also the solution, as over the coming weeks, they will automatically improve the supply and especially the delivery chain performance. As is widely reported, there are plenty of supplies, but it will take time for our Artificial Intelligence advisors to get them where they are needed.

These naturally complex arrangements, attempting to balance environment against consumer and wider demand are a vigorous area for research and development, whether it be in software and systems, materials handling or manufacturing and agriculture.

To arrange a free consultation to discuss your own specific R&D circumstances, to identify how we can work with your team to realise greater value for your business, contact us today