Supply Chains Challenged to Innovate by Virus

As we work toward stabilization of the global supply chain, technology and innovation will be required ingredients to enable a swift rebound.

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We are now six months into this global pandemic, and the impact to global supply chains is clear. According to the Institute for Supply Management, nearly 75 percent of US businesses reported disruptions to their supply chain due to COVID-19 related issues like longer lead times for China-sourced components, production slowdowns or stoppages due to staff reductions, and delays in moving or loading goods.

Data indicates these trends will continue into next year, and may change industry practices for decades. G7 countries may see over 300 million lost jobs in the first two quarters of the year due to COVID-19, and some pre-pandemic jobs may never return as companies innovate to meet the demands of the new normal. 

Johan Swinnen, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said that ‘COVID-19 threatens a very significant shortage in production for next year...companies are thinking of innovative ways to re-engineer the food system to work better in this environment....because they know that to survive, they must innovate and become more resilient.’ 

In fact, this crisis will likely push forward the timeline for the Fourth Industrial Revolution as predicted by the World Economic Forum in 2018, where ‘humans [will] account for only 48 percent of [the] workforce by 2025’ due to changing business models and increasing digitalization and virtualization of industry. The pandemic demands immediate innovation; digitalization will help to maintain workflow, enhance productivity, and create new revenue streams as it tempers the unpredictability of COVID-affected supply chains. 

According to one 2019 IBM Global C-suite study, nearly 85% of chief supply chain officers cited a lack of visibility as a limiting factor in how quickly they can react to disruptions within their supply chain, leading to waste and inefficiency. 

However, with the addition of technologies like IoT sensors, RFID, and track and trace systems, digitalization can create near end-to-end transparency within the supply chain. A shift away from paper documentation and manual handling and toward digitalization could potentially increase the value of global goods traded by 15% per year. 

Additionally, while Gartner predicted half of all large companies would adopt the use of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence in supply chain operations by 2023, this pace may now be accelerating. AI-based tools can help predict shortages or demand spikes 

before they occur, giving managers the time and agility to respond with well-thought response scenarios, thus are invaluable business tools in the Covid environment. 

As we work toward stabilization of the global supply chain, technology and innovation will be required ingredients to enable a swift rebound and ensure a productive future.


Technology writer Marla Keene works for Automation Industrial, an industrial automation parts supplier located in North Carolina. Her articles have been featured on,, and in Servo Magazine. Before working for Automation Industrial, Marla spent twelve years running her own small business. 

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