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COVID-19 and Life Science Supply Chains: Communication is Key

by Stephen Meyer  |  April 9, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

I hope all is well with you, your families, and colleagues as we adjust to COVID-19’s impact on our daily lives.  It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of the fourth week of mandatory social distancing here in upstate NY.  As I think back how much as changed, I’m continually reminded of the question my 15 year old son asked me at the beginning of our ‘lock-in’:

“Dad, what did you do the last time something like this happened?”

My answer surprised him, but won’t surprise you.  I told him that I’ve never experienced anything like this before.  We probably have to go back to the Great Depression or Spanish Flu outbreak to find an example of such a fundamental change in our personal and professional lives.

So if we don’t have direct experience to rely on, how is the industry managing through the constantly changing situation we’re faced with now thanks to COVID-19?

In speaking with supply chain leaders in med device and pharma over the past few weeks, I’m not convinced that classic risk management activities have prepared the industry well for this crisis.  The near-universal method of quantifying potential risks on likelihood and impact meant that global pandemics were marginalized.  With a low likelihood score, taking steps to mitigate the specific impacts of a crisis like we’re experiencing wasn’t a priority for most supply chains.

So if supply chains can’t fall back on business continuity planning to navigate these challenging times, what tactics are leaders using?

Certainly, a tendency to carry more inventory than other industries helps us.  As one supply chain leader told me, 6 months ago he was chastised for tying up too much cash in inventory; now he’s a hero whose actions will help ensure the company has products to sell despite challenges to production.   But unless you built up buffer stock before the outbreak, the chances are slim you have the ability to do so now.

One action I heard from everyone I interviewed:   establish constant communication up and down the supply chain.

The ever-changing nature of this crisis means that it’s vital to know what’s happening with your customers, suppliers, and logistics providers, among others.  And that means:

  • Your purchasing team is on the phone with critical suppliers verifying their ability to supply and transport key raw materials to you
  • Your commercial team is talking with customers and prioritizing needs
  • Your logistics team is in near constant communication with carriers, 3PL’s, freight forwarders, and customs brokers to tactically route freight and secure limited cargo space

Keep in mind this is taxing on your team, especially when running a global operation.  Teams in different time zones means jobs can have demands 24/7.  Have a plan to ensure employees are stepping away from their laptops and mobile phones.

Thanks for reading and stay healthy!

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Tags: coronavirus  covid  covid-19  life-science  med-device  pharma  supply-chain  

Stephen Meyery
Sr Director Analyst I
6 years at Gartner
14 years IT Industry

Stephen Meyer is a Research Director in Gartner's Supply Chain group. Mr. Meyer joined Gartner with 19 years of experience in global supply chain management roles in the life sciences, chemical and retail industries. In his previous positions, he has had both functional and leadership responsibility for sourcing, procurement, planning/forecasting, operational excellence, warehousing, logistics and transportation.Read Full Bio

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