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7 Ways to Spring Clean Your Supply Chain

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Although the East coast weather refuses to admit it, we've finally reached the lively season of spring. After a series of challenging snow storms and the disruption they brought to delivery schedules, the first day of spring is something to celebrate.

As you try to remember what a warm day looks like and get back to all of those outdoor tasks that you've been putting off for months, why not take time to give your business supply chain a spring clean as well?

It's the ideal time to take stock of what's gone well during a busy winter and, more importantly, where you think things can be improved.

Today we'll take a look at some of the areas of your operation that make for a sensible starting point in this seasonal shake-up.

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7 Ways to Spring Clean Your Supply Chain

Supply chain processes are like any other element of your business: leave them alone long enough and they can start to lose some of their shine. Unfortunately, when your supply chain slows to a crawl, so does the rest of your business, which makes it all the more important to dust off your processes from time to time and rethink the ways they work.

To get you going, here are seven ideas for places to start your supply chain spring cleaning:

1. Review transport options and transit times: A year in a long time in logistics and a lot can change in the that time. A quick update of your transport costs and a review of what alternative modes might cost could yield some surprises, even if you undertook the same exercise last year. The prolonged delays at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach might also prompt reflection on whether west coast routes are right for your business, in which case you can expand this review out to shipping options, as well as the storage and transport of goods once they arrive Stateside. Even if all this review achieves is to confirm you still have the most cost-effective solution in place, you'll have something substantial to back up your choices the next time someone asks.

2. Identify and improve key relationships: Sometimes processes are carefully planned, with all the right people slotted into all the right places and their roles correctly connected. There are also plenty of situations where ad-hoc processes spring up out of pure necessity, in which case they probably work, but not at optimal efficiency and with increased potential for gaps in information and communication. If you have time to map out all of the processes that make up your distribution and fulfillment, it will become a valuable tool for current and future reviews. If not, try to identify the key processes and relationships that make your supply chain tick. These can be internal and external, between departments and colleagues, suppliers and service providers. Wherever a key process connector exists, confirm that everyone is aware who reports to whom and that the required information is being exchanged. 

3. Measure visibility through a complete shipment: When you have visibility of different sections of your supply chain, it's easier to spot where things work well, where they fall down, and even potential bottlenecks where you identify limited operational resources. Can you track a product from source to delivery, or at least from import to end consumer? If not, you know you need to assess whether these areas are important enough to enhance visibility and, if so, how this can be achieved.

4. Benchmark your tech: As with our first point, a year is also a long time in technology (as you'll know if try to keep up with the latest smartphone models or Apple innovation). In the same way, what was cutting edge in your warehouse a few years ago could now be a potential drag on your operation, or at least an area where efficiency could be increased. If you contract operations out to a third party provider, they should be able to tell you what they've focused on updating and why it benefits your business. If you're looking at in-house operations, try to focus on the tech that underpins your key processes and work your way out from there. When you find a process that requires improvement, broaden your research to see whether new technology could be a part of the solution. Beyond that, try to find out what advances your competitors have implemented, and whether you could make use of the same technology.

5. Test your flexibility: How well would your supply chain work if plans A, B, C and beyond failed to deliver the goods? The truth is that there's an almost infinite number of disruptions that could impact your main supply chain solution. Understanding the most likely risks to your primary processes means that you can run scenarios, assess the financial impact, and create emergency procedures for employees to follow. More generally, you need to know how far your supply chain can be stretched before it breaks, and which alternative routes you'll pursue if and when a situation pushes it near that breaking point.

6. Assess your metrics: Do you have the right key performance indicators (KPIs) in place? Are you measuring provider performance against agreed service levels? That's assuming all these exist, of course. If not, then creating them is the focus of this year's drive to a clean supply chain. What you can measure, you can manage, and we wrote more extensively on the subject last year. Read that article here if improving your supply chain metrics is of interest this year.

7. Get meta! Review your review process: No, not to the mind-bending depths of Inception, but if all of this review activity is new to you then the review process itself is something you'll want to revisit. Use this spring clean as a springboard; record the review activities that you undertake and what was missed, draw up a full list of what to check every year, then set a schedule so that this becomes an annual review. If seasonality applies to your industry, try to schedule your reviews during low periods so that everyone has more time to reflect and crucial operations aren't needlessly impacted. You're trying to curb disruption after all, not create it!

If you need some help acting on the improvement ideas above, we're always ready to assist.