In times of crisis, agencies know that decision-making ability and response time are only as good as the information in their supplier database.
There are many lessons to be learned from the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global shutdowns. Some are managerial or operational in nature, and others are more directly related to the management and adaptation of existing supply chains. These challenging times have exposed supply chain shortcomings while highlighting the strength of technology to address strategic problems.
In earliest days of the pandemic, public- and private-sector organizations were often unable to access the goods and services they needed from their current suppliers. If they were buying something completely new, they did not always have a trusted source for information.
Organizations know that their decision-making ability and their response time in a crisis are only as good as the information in their supplier database. All too often, unfortunately, the quality of that data is very poor, leading to poor choices or prompting decision-makers to look elsewhere because they have so little trust in the data. This problem came into sharp focus as hospitals and governments worldwide scrambled to buy enough personal protective equipment to allow them to continue to operate.
In the United Kingdom, digital access to supplier information made all the difference in short-term crisis response and ensured protection against longer-term disruption.
The government wanted to identify all suppliers located in specific countries that could supply medical equipment -- such as N95 masks, medical gowns and hand sanitizer -- and who met certain qualifications and requirements.
In fact, the U.K. government took the effort a step further, leveraging its knowledge of supply chains to handle not just short-term needs but also protect against longer-term disruption.
Given the constraints and unpredictability of the supply chain in March, April and May, U.K. officials wanted a list of both PPE manufacturers and distributors. This data would better support decision-making and prevent dependence on distributors that were not able to deliver during this critical time. Additionally, officials wanted the lists of suppliers to be searchable by employee count and revenue so they could tell which manufacturers were most likely to be able to handle the large volumes required. Emphasis was placed on current suppliers and companies that were similar in profile to those that government was already working with. Finally, the government wanted to see which suppliers had been “verified” by other large volume buyers to avoid any problems with fraud.
By using sophisticated, yet easy-to-use, digital tools and a foundation of clean supplier data, the procurement team quickly sifted through matching supplier candidates, focusing on companies with certifications in quality and security as well as those who met diversity and sustainability criteria.
In the end, the U.K. government was able to identify and prequalify over 60,000 suppliers across the categories of PPE considered most critical. On the list were companies both large and small, some of which were already known to the U.K. government and some were completely new discoveries. Each ultimately became part of a diverse solution that proved critical during the crisis.
One of the most important lessons we are learning from the pandemic is the importance of trusted, agile and transparent information in a crisis. Having ready access to trusted suppliers and details about their businesses will support agencies’ nuanced decision-making on immediate needs and long-term objectives without having to abandon existing requirements and diversity and community-based goals.