Day by day, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate. This global crisis has become an unexpected catalyst for change, forcing businesses to adjust based on the growing number of lockdowns and restrictions. These restrictions include establishing more stringent health and safety practices, figuring out how to support a majority remote workforce, and disentangling impacted supply chains, among other challenges. Based on all the available information, this seems to be the new norm.
Amidst this mass disruption, business leaders are presented with a unique opportunity.
Adapting to the current level of uncertainty will be a key defining moment for companies. While this Coronavirus threat is top of mind for everyone in the short term, the disruptions it has created will undoubtedly affect society at scale. The decisions and actions made today will test and prepare these leaders for future crises.
Guided by our own data-driven analysis, and conversations with clients, investors and stakeholders, we have identified 3 key areas of focus that will be of critical importance for retailers and consumer packaged goods organizations’ future resiliency:
- Flatten the supply chain curve in the short term: Pandemic pantry-loading is further contributing to the supply chain challenges of managing channel distribution and product prioritization. Leveraging first and third-party data will help improve decision-making and execution by providing insight into trends and scenarios that will impact the supply chain. Instead of pouring resources into predicting black swan events, our focus has been three-fold:
- Quickly ascertain how our own AI systems can incorporate recency into their predictions
- Begin incorporating leading indicators from other geographies into real-time sales, inventory and supply chain tracking dashboards
- Over-communicating with our own clients and partners to truly understand how to navigate the rapidly changing landscape, such as reducing promotion intensity in select categories to mitigate unexpected peaks in the supply chain
- Stop postponing investment in smarter forecasting, allocation and planning systems: The pandemic will eventually ramp down and slowly start to pass, but there will not be a return to a pre-crisis state. Navigating through and responding to this level of uncertainty will become the new status quo, requiring businesses to adopt and embrace the technologies and tools that will propel their ongoing success. Explore the full landscape of digital systems and solutions to improve your offering and bottom line. For example, have you adopted modern machine learning techniques when forecasting and allocating to stores in order to capture anomalous events and other recency effects?
- Mandate that all software should function regardless of circumstance: This crisis has highlighted distinct gaps in your systems, solutions and workflows. Building an infrastructure that leverages SaaS solutions is more than just good practice – it is a step towards future proofing your business. Top of mind should be answering these 2 questions:
- Does the forecasting and planning systems allow for full business continuity in crisis?
- Do these systems allow users flexibility and “human in the loop” oversight?
The challenges of this crisis are far from over, as will be the lessons learned.
As we all work through our own set of obstacles in this period of uncertainty, there is one thing that seems to be clear: retailers and CPG organizations who do not restructure their operating model could crumble under the weight of future disruptions and consequent impacts.