10 minute read

Over the past year, supply chains worldwide have had to make difficult changes to their businesses and operations in order to adapt to seismic global shifts.

To discuss ongoing challenges and share solutions in response to these market shifts, Nulogy and the F4SS (Foundation for Supply Chain Solutions) invited leaders from CPG brands and external supply chain providers to an interactive virtual workshop aimed at exchanging experiences and ideas across the supply chain community.

I had the pleasure of presenting and moderating the workshop, which consisted of two breakout sessions. The workshop gave both brands and suppliers the chance to share insights on topics such as:

  • How collaboration between brand and external supplier has evolved since COVID-19;
  • How industry practitioners worked together under the unprecedented conditions of the past year; and
  • The biggest challenges and bottlenecks confronting collaborative relationships.

A few key themes arose from the workshop:

The benefits of technology-enabled communication

It’s no secret that COVID and work-from-home mandates have increased our reliance on technology to connect teams, communicate with customers, and stay productive. The adoption rate of communication technologies across the industry has, in turn, dramatically accelerated.

During one breakout session, a manager of external manufacturing for a large global CPG brand pointed out that technology has played an increasingly important role in connecting with its external suppliers. Prior to COVID, onsite visits and in-person meetings were the main method of connecting with suppliers. Now, the brand has leveraged conferencing technology as a communications substitute, but the switch has offered enough time and cost savings that these virtual methods of connecting are now becoming a permanent fixture in communications workflows.

This growing adoption of virtual ways of working together has also helped normalized online communications between brand and supplier, speeding up processes such as scheduling, whereas in the past, both parties relied upon physical and face-to-face communication, which could have presented issues due to lag and asynchronicity.

On the other side of the supply chain relationship, contract packagers that attended the workshop found that having real-time, digitally enabled information sharing could significantly alleviate time, stress, and back-and-forths on order and planning information with customers. The president of a mid-sized co-packing company explained that a unified view of orders could enable much faster decision making on both sides of the relationship.

In sum: while there were clear benefits to technological adoption in brand-supplier communication, there are still roadblocks to adoption, as I will describe next.

Technological immaturity exacerbates communication delays

During the workshop, an external manufacturing consultant at a global personal care brand cited how non-standardized levels of technological maturity across its external supply chain network have stymied efforts to communicate with stakeholders more effectively. He explained that emails continue to be relied upon to pass information back and forth, despite being a slower, asynchronous mode of communication insufficient to keep pace with today’s market. To introduce solutions to this problem, new communication-centric technologies, such as real-time alert and notification systems, are being continually pushed as workarounds—to varying degrees of success.

The CPG workshop participants agreed that despite the championing of new technology to substitute for physical, pre-COVID touch points, information sharing and adoption of new technologies continue to present barriers to deeper collaboration.

Contract packagers, on the other hand, found that the same technological immaturity present in smaller brands, which being reliant on manual processes in its supply chain, presented its own share of challenges. Despite this, contract packagers saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate adaptability and stand out as suppliers of choice.

Establishing trust is pivotal to success

Because communication and technology have been pivotal themes during the workshop, the natural progression of the conversation led to trust and the need to establish mutuality and trust for stronger, more successful relationships between brands and suppliers.

This part of the conversation revolved around silo mentality as a critical blocker to collaboration. For example, the president of a midsized contract packaging company encountered communications roadblocks due to silo mentality leading to a lack of information being shared by the customer. He explained that in a pandemic environment, and the resulting amount of strain and limitations on operations, it was important to have seamless access to the information necessary to execute on orders.

The president of a logistics company also stressed the need for more frequent communication, which improved the amount of information flow as well as helping reinforce the culture of collaboration necessary for success.

On the CPG side, the global customization manager highlighted the need for bidirectional trust between both sides of the supply chain, as both sides work together to devise new solutions in the wake of the pandemic.

Final Thoughts

During this unprecedented time, I believe it’s especially valuable for supply chain professionals to connect and tackle issues together. As we learned during the workshop, communication and collaboration have dramatically accelerated in sophistication during COVID—yet challenges and roadblocks still remain.

While there’s no magic bullet to solve our supply chain quandaries in this tumultuous time, I think one thing is certain: we will adapt and overcome them more swiftly by working together.

Are you focused on developing the mindset, processes, and tools for improving collaboration within the contract manufacturing and packing supply chain?

Nulogy can help. Learn how we can illuminate and accelerate your external supply chain network and enable all partners to work better and smarter together.

Hank Canitz
Written By
Apr 01, 2021

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