Humpty Dumpty is busted

by Emily Atkins

It’s time to start thinking differently about the ‘disruptions’ facing global supply chain operations.

Emily Atkins is the editor of Inside Logistics

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began it has become accepted wisdom that the upheavals in supply networks are a glitch, a hiccup, a tear in the fabric of “normal” operations. Hence the constant, grating use of the word ‘disruption’.

How long does a change need to be in effect before it becomes the norm, and no longer a disruption? Reminds me of the challenge of being accepted when you move to a new country or small town – you’ll never be ‘from’ there in the locals’ eyes.

Yes, global supply chains have been disrupted, disturbed and upended. Yes, there has been a tremendous need for nimble adjustment on the part of carriers and cargo owners alike in the face of the unexpected challenges such disturbances create.

However, I’ve been reading enough about trends and have been in the supply chain space for long enough to think we are actually in a new phase, a new supply chain normal. Transport networks have been altered, e-commerce is here to stay, procurement is evolving and the labour market will never go back to the way it was when I started working (quite a few years ago).

Editors, analysts and operations managers alike need to recognize these facts and stop trying to put supply chain Humpty Dumptys back together. They’re broken, smashed to smithereens, not ‘disrupted’.

Most supply chain operations folks are forward thinking, creative people with massive analytical skills. Surely they see what I’m talking about: it is not productive to sit by waiting for the world to go back to normal.

We need to accept the fact that container flows are messed up, that you cannot rely on ocean shipping for timely delivery of raw materials or finished goods, that many people don’t want to work in warehouses, that people do want their online purchases today or tomorrow, and that they really don’t care why you cannot deliver them on time, they’ll just shop elsewhere next time.

Once you shift perspective from trying to figure out how to glue Humpty’s brittle shell back together, and focus instead on the delicious omelet you can make, the outlook suddenly gets brighter. We have so many amazing people working in supply chain, and wonderful new technologies at their disposal. If they turn their collective brilliance forward, surely the new normal will start to look pretty exciting.