• Tuesday, December 05, 2023
businessday logo


How to navigate the storm: Resilience and risk in the supply chain

How to navigate the storm: Resilience and risk in the supply chain

In the fast-paced, interconnected world of global commerce, the supply chain is the circulatory system of businesses. It ensures that products reach consumers efficiently, like blood coursing through veins. Yet, as our world grows increasingly complex, so do our supply chains. They extend across continents, rely on an intricate web of suppliers, and are susceptible to many unforeseen challenges. This complexity and vulnerability can be likened to the vulnerability of a colossal ship in a tempest. One might wonder how such a ship, battered by winds and waves, stays afloat. The answer lies in understanding risk and building resilience.

The tale of the SS El Faro, a cargo ship lost at sea in a hurricane, serves as a vivid reminder of the importance of supply chain risk management and resilience. On October 1, 2015, this enormous vessel, en route from Florida to Puerto Rico, found itself in the path of Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 3 hurricane with relentless fury. Despite warnings, the ship’s crew faced a series of unfortunate decisions that ultimately led to disaster. This calamity illustrates how the lack of understanding, preparation, and resilience can lead to catastrophic consequences. In the world of supply chain management, the parallels are uncanny.

Defining supply chain risk

Supply chain risk is a multifaceted concept, encompassing a spectrum of challenges that can disrupt the flow of goods and services. Operational, financial, strategic, and compliance risks contribute to the complexity of supply chain management.

Operational risks involve the daily challenges businesses face, such as machinery breakdowns, employee shortages, and transportation delays. A hiccup in any of these areas can disrupt the entire supply chain.

Financial risks on the other hand, pertain to the monetary aspects of supply chain management. Fluctuating currency exchange rates, credit risks with suppliers, and volatile raw material prices all introduce financial instability to the supply chain.

Strategic risks involve the long-term plans and decisions made by a business. A shift in market dynamics, sudden changes in customer preferences, or entering new markets can all be fraught with strategic risk.

Compliance risks are associated with adhering to regulations and standards, both locally and internationally. Failure to comply with these can lead to legal troubles and disruptions in the supply chain.

To mitigate these risks effectively, it is crucial to understand them thoroughly, anticipate their occurrence, and establish contingency plans.

Identifying risk factors

External Factors: These are factors outside a company’s immediate control. Market volatility, for instance, can lead to unpredictable fluctuations in supply and demand, which can be particularly challenging in industries with long lead times. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, can devastate entire regions, crippling the production capabilities of suppliers. Companies must have robust disaster recovery and business continuity plans to prepare for these eventualities.

Geopolitical factors: A number of factors, such as trade tensions and geopolitical conflicts around the world, can lead to the non-availability of crucial resources. As a result, established supply chain routes can be disrupted. It is imperative that companies closely monitor these developments and prepare for any contingencies that may arise.

Internal Factors: These elements within a company’s control require careful management. Situations such as supplier dependencies, for instance, are a critical consideration. Relying heavily on a single supplier can lead to vulnerability if that supplier experiences issues.

Also, inventory management and quality control are other internal factors that can influence supply chain resilience. While holding excess inventory can be costly, having too little can lead to shortages in times of need too. So striking the right balance is essential.

These factors are where we can learn how to use rigorous quality control measures to help prevent issues of defective products which can lead to recalls, cause damage to a brand’s reputation, and supply chain disruptions.

Assessing and measuring supply chain risks

Effectively managing supply chain risk begins with measuring and assessing it. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are essential tools for this purpose. These indicators may include on-time delivery rates, inventory turnover ratios, and supplier performance metrics. My advice is that companies should establish clear benchmarks for these KPIs and regularly assess their supply chain’s performance against them.

Data and analytics play a pivotal role in risk assessment. Big data and machine learning algorithms can help predict potential disruptions by analysing historical data and identifying patterns. For example, by analysing past transportation delays, a company can predict future potential disruptions and make necessary adjustments.

Many risk assessment frameworks and models exist to aid companies in evaluating their supply chain risk. The Supply Chain Operations Reference (SCOR) model, for instance, provides a comprehensive framework to assess and manage various aspects of the supply chain.

A real-life example to further illustrate the importance of risk assessment is how Toyota suffered significant supply chain disruptions during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Their production was severely impacted because of their overreliance on Japanese suppliers. As a result of the disaster, it has become clear that understanding geographic concentrations of suppliers and diversifying them is essential.

Building supply chain resilience

Building resilience in the supply chain involves strategies to minimize disruptions and adapt quickly to changing conditions. Using reshipping resilience is the ship’s reinforced hull, sturdy enough to weather the storm.

Diversifying suppliers is a fundamental strategy. By sourcing from multiple suppliers, companies can reduce their vulnerability to disruptions at a single source. Apple, for instance, relies on multiple suppliers for critical components like screens and chips to minimize risks.

Inventory optimization is another crucial element of resilience. Maintaining a balance between holding enough inventory to meet demand and avoiding excess inventory costs is a delicate but necessary task.

Demand forecasting, based on historical data and market trends, can help businesses anticipate fluctuations in demand and plan accordingly. Having contingency plans in place for rapid scale-up or scale-down is crucial.

Scenario planning involves preparing for a range of possible disruptions and having strategies in place to address them. This proactive approach allows companies to respond swiftly when a crisis occurs.

What is the role of technology in managing supply chain risks?

Technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing supply chain resilience. Supply chain management software and tools provide real-time visibility and automation capabilities to streamline operations. Blockchain technology enables greater transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain. This can be particularly important for industries with stringent quality and safety requirements, such as the food and pharmaceutical sectors.

IoT (Internet of Things) devices, including sensors and trackers, allow companies to monitor the condition and location of goods in transit. This real-time information helps in identifying and mitigating disruptions.

AI and predictive analytics provide companies with the ability to forecast disruptions based on a wide range of data inputs, facilitating proactive risk management.

Examples of companies implementing technology for resilience include Amazon, which employs a sophisticated demand forecasting system, and Maersk, a global shipping company that utilizes blockchain to enhance transparency and security in their supply chain operations.

Supply chain resilience best practices

Collaboration and communication are at the heart of building resilience. Companies should foster strong relationships with their suppliers, sharing information and working together to address potential issues. There is also supply chain mapping, which involves visually charting the flow of goods and information, helps companies identify vulnerabilities and plan for contingencies.

Read also: Do Africans really care about a sustainable supply chain?

Continuous improvement is an ongoing process of refining and enhancing supply chain operations. Regular reviews and assessments ensure that risk mitigation strategies remain effective and up-to-date.

Training and education are essential for employees at all levels of the organization. This includes educating staff about risk management practices and ensuring they understand their roles in the event of a disruption.

To illustrate the principles of supply chain risk management and resilience, we can look at how Maersk, the global shipping company utilized blockchain technology to enhance the security and transparency of its supply chain. This move has improved the traceability of goods and reduced the risk of fraud.


In the world of supply chain management, understanding risk and building resilience is akin to equipping a ship to weather any storm. The tale of the SS El Faro serves as a haunting reminder that ignorance and neglect can lead to tragic consequences. By comprehending the various risks inherent in supply chains, companies can proactively take steps to mitigate these risks and bolster their resilience.

As our world grows more complex, and the challenges facing supply chains become increasingly intricate, it is paramount that businesses recognize the need for comprehensive risk management strategies. However, this is an ongoing journey, one that requires constant vigilance and adaptation.