Twenty-five years ago, the term “supply chain” began to be used to describe an integrated end-to-end process of the Planning-Buying-Making-Moving-Storing-Selling of materials, goods and products. However, the inconsistent use of the term almost killed its true meaning, as supply chain was often used to describe a wide variety of activities that reported to a myriad of different departments, including procurement, sales, finance, operations, merchandizing, logistics, strategy, planning and more.

In 2010, a real change began to occur for the profession, when we saw the creation of Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCOs), with this position beginning to report to CEOs, be included on boards and appear as courses of study, publications and professional societies. Because of this evolution, the term “supply chain” began to be used in everyday discussions, in the media and online, and by 2019, the average businessperson would hear the term several times a week—or even a day.

But then as 2020 began, a new word entered our vocabulary: coronavirus. The word coronavirus and the realities of COVID-19 have propelled the term and profession of “supply chain” out of the business vernacular and into the everyday vocabulary of the general population. The average citizen now grasps that today’s supply chain is not the same as their grandfather’s supply chain. Today’s supply chain is:

  • A GLOBAL process: Not Muncie to Chicago but Mumbai to Chicago.
  • A CONNECTED process: Not transportation across the country to the store but from product conception to delivery to the customer.
  • An IMPORTANT process: Not about cost reduction but about profitable growth.
  • An INTEGRATED process: Not about the traditional retail store, online channel or marketplace but about the integration of all channels into a unichannel process.
  • A CONFLICTED process: When financial management does not appropriately include risk in their decision process, they will place their organization at risk.
  • A COMPLEX process: As the breadth and depth of supply chain processes expand so too does the complexity of decision making and thus the required sophistication of data analysis and decision-making tools.
  • A process needing INNOVATION: The pace of change and the reality of uncertainty require today’s supply chain professional to be innovative in their design and management of their supply chain.

The shock and aftershocks of COVID-19 will pass. But supply chain being placed center stage in front of the entire world population will not dissipate. The supply chain profession has been changed and as we creep out of our homes and back into the reality of today’s newly popular supply chain, we must be ready to face the global, connected, important, integrated, conflicted and complex supply chain with a spirit of innovation and vigor that goes well beyond how we addressed supply chain just a few months ago. All companies must respond to this new reality of supply chain and not just recover from COVID-19, but realize it is a whole new ball game.

This is part of our new blog series on the impacts of COVID-19. Be sure to check back daily for each installment. Learn more about the impacts in the related articles below or visit our newsroom to stay up to date on our latest news.

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Jim Tompkins
Jim Tompkins

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