It's More Than Mother Nature

You might not be able to avoid every pitfall, but by being vigilant and prepared you can mitigate the damage

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The first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions supply chain risk often is the vision of natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes and the like. But those who live supply chain every day know better. In this piece we’ll take a look at some of the others issues important to risk management and how to make sure your supply chain keeps flowing with a minimum of disruption.

Like most industries and technologies, supply chain is loaded with buzz words. They are not to be scoffed at because, most of the time, they’re important enough to help provide a solution to the pain.

Flexibility and Agility

In its 2013 Global Supply Chain Survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) noted “Supply chain performance will depend on the ability to respond quickly to changes in demand and supply through the ups and downs of business cycles, as well as during crises. Flexibility will continue to grow in importance with the rise of emerging markets and a proliferation of new products.”

The survey suggest that companies use technology to make supply chains more transparent and efficient by segmenting supply chains, partnering more closely with vendors and increasing risk management.

Take, for example MWI Veterinary Supply, a $3 billion Idaho-based pharmaceutical company that specializes in veterinarian medicine. Now, imagine a country veterinarian making his rounds at farms in a small section of Wyoming. He uses his mobile device to enter what he needs, so when he returns to the office it’s there.

“The vet knows his geography, knows his horse and dog population and what his expected needs are from past orders,” says Doug Braun, CEO of IBS. “That can be integrated into an ERP system. It can change order patterns automatically and pass visibility up to the web portal so suppliers can see it. A lot of automatically connected supply chain pieces help this company. It grew up serving rural vets, but has expanded in size and scope and needed tools for visibility from consumers to suppliers.”

One way for supply chain professionals to get better visibility is through better connectivity. What supply chain hasn’t thought about yet, but retail is preaching, is Omni-Channel,” says Linda Taddonio, Ecommerce Strategy Officer at Insite Software. “Everything is connected, nothing is siloed. You can see the same information, interact and get the same results.”

It’s not easy, she adds. Ecommerce is changing everything. “Some organizations are paralyzed by it. Transformation is a big word; innovation is a big word. They need to innovate and adjust to what the digital world is hurling at them.”



Shame to the Name

Safeguarding your brand is something that companies must be concerned about, not only in the eyes of the consumer, but also those of the vendor. It can happen in many ways: Intellectual property (IP) theft, counterfeiting and product diversion can wreak havoc in the supply chain and to the brand and bottom line.

How does product diversion work? Listen to Keith Cutri, Kodak’s Director of Business Development for Packaging & Brand Management Services, and a former FBI agent with vast experience in corporate security and brand protection in the private sector.

“First and foremost, diversion creates opportunity for counterfeiters to introduce knock-off products to unsuspecting authorized distributors who believe they are acquiring diverted goods at lower costs through improper channels,” Cutri says. “The counterfeit goods go undetected and end up being distributed to authorized retailers and downstream resellers, ultimately being purchased by end-users and consumers around the world.”

Next thing you know, there is customer dissatisfaction with inferior goods, health and safety concerns, reduction in brand loyalty, loss of market share, decline in revenue and potential legal liability.

“Brand owners can mitigate the risk of counterfeiting and diversion through a comprehensive end-to-end brand protection program,” Cutri advises. “This includes the deployment of overt and covert countermeasures on packaging, labels and products, which allow for ease of authentication in the channels, and cost-effective investigation and enforcement. The program should also include mass serialization coupled with global monitoring through brand loyalty campaigns targeted toward distributors, retailers, end-users and consumers.”

The greatest pitfall, he adds, “is doing nothing. Brand owners who stick their heads in the sand and ignore the marketplace risks will fall behding their competitiors who are proactive in their brand-protection efforts.”

Bruce Williams, VP, Business Line Leader—Manufacturing, Pegasystems, agrees.  “We see two kinds of things, one is that the brand is denigrated in the eyes of the customer. They look at it with a more wary eye and it results in lost sales because they’ve moved on to a different vendor because they lost trust. Second is a quality issue. Lower quality products have less reliability, or perhaps one part of your supply chain has gotten you into legal or regulatory trouble. The customer is not comfortable sourcing to you.”

Protecting your IP

This is so important that the FBI focuses on it, specifically on the theft of trade secrets and infringements on products that can impact consumers’ health and safety, such as counterfeit aircraft, car, and electronic parts, and even cosmetics. According to its web site, the bureau is currently pursuing 400 cases.

“We’re a globally interconnected environment,” says Steve Durbin, Global VP at Information Security Forum. “Often we don’t know who our Tier 2, 3, and 4 suppliers are. Who’s supplying Tier 1? That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s not straightforward supply chain, but also includes the role the accountants and legal advisers have. How do we validate the integrity of security across the supply chain?”

Every industry is affected by IP theft. “Look at health care,” Durbin says. “Companies spend a huge about of time in R&D producing the proper recipe. Until they patent it, the loss can be catastrophic if it’s stolen. One pharma company discovered there was a [version] of their drug on the street, at a lower price point, before they released it. The challenge is that the organization doesn’t know until they see it in the market. Then it becomes a long, drawn-out, process to prove it. It destroys trust.”

Electronic products are highly susceptible to IP theft and counterfeiting. One way to deal with it is, don’t let the left hand know what the right is doing.

“A lot of companies I’ve talked with will break up their assemblies into non-recognizable bits,” says Steve Chalgren, VP of Product Management and Strategy at Arena Solutions. “Each vendor doesn’t know what the product is. Suppliers have no IP, just little pieces. You see that in things like phones that are really competitive. People writing code only have a board. No one in developing could leak it out, so every little feature differentiation counts.”

Tom Pettit, Senior VP and General Manager of Global Supply Chain Solutions for Ryder, has another type of theft in mind: high-jacking of vehicles. A trailer filled with electronic components can be worth as 10s of millions of dollars. Ryder operates a lot of trucks in Mexico—9,000 border crossings a day—and high-jacking is a problem.

“We have certain routes our folks travel at certain hours,” he says.  “They all have onboard tracking so if the truck leaves the route, we’ll know. There’s a geo-fence on the route and we get constant updates. The driver has certain codes to transmit if he’s in trouble and there also are tracking devices in the trailer and in certain pallets. Sometimes they’ll swap the pallets into another trailer, so we still can track them.”

Pettit says Ryder works with Mexican police, private security and U.S. and Mexican Federal police when an incident occurs.

The Role of Technology

While former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics is local, it’s just the opposite in the business world. It’s a global world now. And that, says Thomas Halliday, General Manager of AEB Pacific, means collaboration and integration and, yes, flexibility.  

“It’s all about preparation,” Halliday says. “IT will play a big role. In 2011 Lenovo lost 20 percent of its hard-drive capacity in Thailand. Since then, they’ve have improved and changed their manufacturing plan.”

Halliday suggest establishing a risk model and updating it yearly. Look at your risk exposure and the maximum financial impact to your supply chain. “When you have a plan, you’re more prepared,” he says. “You look at product designs, a flexible workforce, visibility and speed, systems design, distribution flexibility. Identify the parts with highest risk. It all helps to have a framework. Flexibility is the big thing.”

When we talk technology, we’re also talking data. Used properly, it can be of enormous help. “Companies have a lot of options these days for gathering data,” says Aaron Rudd, VP of Product Development at Browz. “The challenge is that most large organizations with robust supply chains do not have the resources to properly analyze or assess this data. They may have non-compliance issues right within the data they have gathered, but it is hidden if they don’t have people who can review it. Many corporations have gone to outsourcing this aspect of supply chain management because they cannot manage the volume of data submittals that suppliers provide. This creates greater liability where they have critical data but they are unable to have true visibility to it.”

Companies, of course, have standards for their suppliers, but without the necessary visibility, they’re at risk. Rudd says that Browz worked with a large utility company that found there supply chain was less than 3 percent compliant with the insurance and key metrics they wanted their suppliers to meet. It took a couple of years, but after communicated the expectations and standard to the supplier, as well as establishing a culture with the organization to only work with compliant companies, the level rose significantly to 70 percent.

In conclusion, there’s risk in every element of your supply chain. Are you prepared?

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