While uncertainty is a part of business, companies have enjoyed relative operational stability as globalization evolved modern supply chains and trading practices. But cracks started to emerge in the late 2010s and fully shattered under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As factories shuttered and vital transport professionals missed work, shipments around the world were missed, orders went unfilled, and millions of products went on backorder. With the softening of mask mandates and lockdown restrictions, a return to business as usual may seem inevitable, but that thinking ignores two inconvenient truths: supply chains have always been fragile and disruption isn’t going anywhere.

Thankfully, we aren’t defenseless when it comes to protecting our supply chains from widespread disruption. By seeing deeper into our manufacturing processes, we can build resilient programs that reduce operational downtime, improve supplier agility, and identify risks before they start to hurt the bottom line.

Disruption Is Here to Stay

To get ahead of supply chain disruption, we first need to understand its causes. At a high level, the risks of today are rooted in manufacturing improvements that became popular in the 1970s. Just-in-Time(JIT) manufacturing — used by companies such as Apple, IBM, Toyota, and many others — has become a dominant method for the production of goods. The process, which prioritizes speed and agility at the cost of stored inventory, reduced labor costs and the need for storage capacity. Unfortunately, without a reserve of goods, manufacturers using this system are less able to weather delays in shipping, part shortages, or worker absences.

Top Supply Chain Risks

The pandemic naturally exploited these weaknesses, but COVID-19 isn’t the only risk to global supply chains:

  • Climate Change: Relatively predictable weather patterns have become unstable, resulting in more natural disasters, more ferocious storms occurring more often, and less dependable supply chains.
  • Geopolitics: Economic penalties are the first response when punishing a wide array of state actions such as human rights violations (China), military aggression (Russia), or undemocratic governing (North Korea, Venezuela, etc). Sanctions and tariffs can eliminate a suppliers’ viability almost overnight.
  • Regulations: Governments around the world are more strictly enforcing regulatory requirements to promote domestic manufacturing resilience, raising the stakes for manufacturers and suppliers that have yet to adopt robust compliance programs.
  • Consumer Pressure: There’s more scrutiny on the business practices than ever before, and if your suppliers are implicated in unethical practices, boycotts or negative news attention can make those relationships costly.
  • Cybersecurity: Ransomware attacks affect more than personal computers. Businesses and even governments can see widespread delays or stoppages if their cyber defenses are infiltrated.

Assent helps you dive deep into your supply chain to find hidden risks so you can steer through uncertainty. Learn how in our Assent Solution Guide.


Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of potential supply chain disruptions and not every event is avoidable. For example, in 2021, a sideways boat in the Suez Canal disrupted global supply chains for weeks. Still, for the majority of instances, a deeper, more transparent view of manufacturing supply chains will provide agility and resiliency to manufacturers.

Seeing Deeper

Complex manufacturing supply chains have many areas where risks can be hidden. Whether it’s a newly restricted substance entering the supply chain at the earliest stages, or difficult-to-track supplier relationships, any part can contain a host of risks that could cost a company. Uncovering these risks requires supplier engagement from the deepest levels of a supply chain, the ability to communicate large volumes of data, and streamlined management to unlock meaningful insights.

Deeper Supplier Engagement

Suppliers want to provide their customers with the information they need to navigate uncertainty, meet compliance requirements, and build advantageous relationships, but they may need help to understand data requests. Manufacturers that invest in their suppliers, through regulatory training, supply chain education, or other means, will routinely receive more buy-in from suppliers and thus a more complete view of the supply chain.

Streamlined Data Exchange

Collecting and managing detailed information about chemical substances, manufacturing processes, or country of origin requires significant resources, but some tools will help streamline the process. Data exchange standards — such as IPC-1752A, IPC-1754, and others — simplify the process, enabling faster communication, fewer errors, and more traceable processes.

Actionable Insights

Collecting data is only half the battle. Presenting it in ways that can be viewed and understood by teams from across an enterprise is a different challenge. When data is centralized in a single platform, all teams benefit from data collection efforts and can take away actionable insights. Engineering can design with compliance in mind, compliance teams can efficiently produce necessary declarations, and procurement teams can have confidence their suppliers are upholding code of conduct standards.

Complicating matters is the point-solution approach to these widespread supply chain needs. When internal programs are mixed with an array of specific third-party solution providers, data can become inaccessible and difficult to aggregate into one source of truth. 

The Assent Supply Chain Sustainability Solution

Assent provides the world’s leading supply chain sustainability management solution, purpose-built for complex manufacturers. Using the deep expertise of over a dozen global regulatory and supply chain experts, Assent has built a comprehensive platform that serves as the foundation for deep supply chain sustainability — managing everything from product compliance to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program needs, all in one central solution.

Built by our experts, the Assent platform efficiently collects and manages supply chain sustainability data of nearly every type, including product compliance information and supplier declarations. It also dives deep into media and supplier relationship monitoring to uncover hidden risks that often go unnoticed in standard compliance data collection. To learn more about what Assent can do for your company, contact us at info@assent.com.

 

James Calder
VP, Compliance & Regulatory Programs

James contributes to data management, verification, assessment, supply chain training/engagement, mitigation, and due diligence strategy at Assent Compliance. With more than 12 years of compliance experience,  Read More

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