Boris Johnson has this week sought to reassure worried consumers that supermarkets across the UK will continue to have enough food supplies.

The Prime Minister said he was confident the farm-to-fork supply chain would keep working well and there was ‘no reason to stockpile or panic buy’.

While it remains to be seen just how reassured people will be by this message, having confidence in the strength of a supply chain is an essential pillar of business success in all sectors, especially when needs must.

The PM’s comments come as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks increasing economic havoc across the world. Markets are in turmoil, governments are struggling to co-ordinate effective action, and some supply chains are indeed fragmenting through delays, volatile pricing and other knock-on effects.

For many manufacturers and retailers, the supply chain impacts will only fully start to bite after ordering and lead-in times have happened. That could be weeks, months or even two or three financial quarters away.

While larger brands will tend to have the strength in depth to survive, painful as that may be, smaller or mid-sized companies face huge challenges in getting on top of supply chain management.

Risk and complexity

Because of supply chain complexity in many sectors, understanding risk exposure can prove very difficult. Tracing supplies all the way to the source, so as to predict and act on risk, is simply beyond the reach of many firms.

This has obvious implications for manufacturers and retailers who have to rely on components or materials from virus-hit areas.  Down the line, they may well end up with either a brick wall of unavailability or a costly price war to land that all-important supply.

It is so important to keep monitoring the supply chain situation and asking where the links are which may be affected by mandatory shutdown or quarantine. Good communication with delivery partners is essential, for example to source alternative shipping arrangements.

Reviewing and recalibrating orders is just as vital. The last thing companies need is a large quantity of stock sitting in a quarantined warehouse unable to move.

Maintaining supply

Even when products do come to market and can be delivered from stock, supply chain problems are often never far away.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a heightened demand for products such as personal protective equipment (PPE), certified face masks and protective overalls. According to one product handling specialist, online searches for some kinds of face masks suddenly rocketed from a typical 20 impressions a day to nearly 5,000. Operating their next-day-delivery proposition, the company sold a year’s worth of stock in a week. Good business you may think. But very quickly, there was no way to replenish. The message ‘out of stock’ was being heard across the whole supply chain, with a lead time for fresh stock put at anywhere from four to six months.

Staying resilient   

How then, in the light of shocks such as coronavirus, can businesses maintain resilience to severe and lightning-quick market fluctuations? This is a question being asked by companies across the world right now as they try to understand the potential impacts of the virus on supply chain factors critical to their operations.

While coronavirus is an unprecedented global emergency and catastrophe, and no-one has all the answers, it’s clear that certain approaches to supply chain management will at least help give a line of sight that can help with current operations and contingency planning.

Making essential connections

Implementing EDI, or electronic data interchange, represents one of these approaches.  EDI is software that helps build more efficiency into the processes involving in sharing business documentation with trading partners. Offered as a cloud solution, it’s the ‘glue’ that connects all the disparate parts of a supply chain, enabling businesses to automate their processes for optimal effect.

For a mid-to-large retail brand, for example, EDI gives the busy finance director a clear handle on the money flows involved in working with trusted fulfilment partners such as manufacturers and distributors.

For a mid-size manufacturer, under pressure to introduce process improvements to save time and money, EDI can be brought in as a flexible, fixed-cost solution to manage their factory operations more effectively.

And for a medium-sized online retailer, EDI can help the operations director understand the real-time state of play with what’s lying in the warehouse. It can, for instance, automatically reconcile stock to ASNs and invoices, a real benefit for returns management.

With consumer demand necessitating ever tighter delivery times, coupled with the need for businesses to survive the economic impact of coronavirus, the time to leave legacy systems behind has come.

Cloud-based EDI is infinitely scalable so whatever the size and scope of the business, it can help with cost-efficiency, time management, data accuracy and a reduction in human error.

And you only need one, single EDI solution. Transalis already connects 98% of the electronically-trading UK retail market using EDI. So whether you’re trading with one or 1,000 partners, it talks your language.

At some point, and at different rates depending on the sector, business activity will emerge from the shadow of coronavirus. Thinking ahead, any time spent now in planning greater use of cloud-based EDI could bring enormous benefits later for the management of both supply chains and distribution networks.

If you feel you could benefit from EDI, find out more about our products and services at www.transalis.com/products.


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