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Facility managers have likely experienced firsthand the tumultuous impact of supply chain challenges. These disruptions have brought to light the intricate web of complexities that surround the supply chain, leaving managers with pressing questions and a need for solutions.
"Global supply chains were dealing with some big issues in 2019, such as Brexit and a trade war between the U.S. and China," says Daniel Stanton, a consultant known as ‘Mr. Supply Chain.’ "But, when the pandemic hit, things got ludicrous. So many issues were hitting simultaneously that there was no way to avoid many disruptions."
Supply chains are complex webs comprising people, processes, and technologies. COVID opened the general public's eyes to the critical importance of the people who make supply chains work. Companies that faced the severity of COVID by finding ways to protect their employees and customers tended to be more resilient.
Many businesses created profitable new products and channels and grew their market share, according to Stanton. But, companies that assumed the pandemic would pass quickly and went on with business as usual were likely severely impacted for a longer time.
"The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront unaddressed vulnerabilities in global supply chains," says Felisa Higgins, associate dean for undergraduate education and clinical professor of supply chain management at Penn State's Smeal College of Business. "Since logistics pioneer Malcolm McLean introduced the steel box container in the mid-1950s, the world has witnessed an unrelenting explosion of international competition. The race to win the heart and the business of customers far and wide has led firms brave enough to grapple with prioritizing cost form alliances and mobilizing production and distribution to gain an edge over their competitors."
During the pandemic, people frequently asked when the supply chain would return to normal. However, the supply chain issue has lasted for so long that people expect that they can't obtain needed supplies even now. But that’s not the case. Products in all industries, including facility maintenance and management, are available.
"Perhaps we need stability more than normalcy," Higgins says. "The unbelievably wild swings in supply and demand that we experienced at the height of COVID-19 are untenable in the long run, and I hope those are behind us.”
As far as returning to normal, it depends on the company. Some will never return to pre-COVID standards.
"Many folks have made the point that COVID accelerated the digital transformation process for companies throughout the supply chain," Stanton says. "Some things are returning to normal, but there seem to be permanent changes, too. For example, e-commerce grew steadily before COVID but the pandemic accelerated that adoption. Some online shopping is now returning to in-person, but much of it has stayed online."
Gregory Burnett is a freelance writer with Advantage Informatics.