There has probably never been a time in history when Logistics Supply Chain has been at its highest level of practice and true importance of function than today’s coronavirus (COVID-19) era.  

Leaders across the globe are at their very best executing supply chain strategies.

It will not be out of place at all for the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces – His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo to be given the title ‘The Commander-in-Chief of Ghana’s Supply Chain’ for the past couple of months.

The words ‘Supply Chain’ mean different things to different people and organisations. Simply put, Supply Chains are responsible for making anything and everything we use available to us in an effective and efficient manner.

The smartphone we use is a product of a supply chain – designed by a company in one country, manufactured by another company in another country and distributed by dealers in many countries.

Supply Chain has long been part of the unsung backbone of our economy; often taken for granted and often invisible to consumers.

From distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to a Regional Hospital in Bolgatanga; to shipment of raw materials to Wilmar Ghana in Tema; to the transportation of spare parts to AngloGold in Obuasi; to the distribution of indelible ink to a polling centre in Walewale and to the availability of food items in Agbogbloshie market in Accra; they are all executed by logistics supply chain functions.

Just as the human body needs its vital organs to function well to stay alive and fight the deadly COVID-19, the supply chain is also a critical vital organ needed to keep our country and its economy running.

COVID-19 has brought in its wake a humanitarian crisis that has exposed the vulnerability of even the most powerful nations in the world, not to mention that of our country Ghana.

It has impacted every Ghanaian economic sector – health, agriculture, education, banking, constructions, events, hospitality, transport, automobile, mining, SMEs, just to mention a few.   If there is one word that describes this pandemic, it is UNCERTAINTY. 

It is evident that we are in unusual times and in responding to this crisis, therefore, doing nothing is not an option. It is thus time for Supply Chain (SC) Leaders and Professionals (Sourcing Specialists, Procurement Directors, Value Chain Analyst, Logistics Executives, Distribution Managers, Inventory and Warehouse Managers, Fleet Managers, etc.) to wake up to the task and shine above the challenges.

Whiles no one knows how soon the pandemic will come to an end and government is doing all it can to safeguard citizens and to also manage the economic fallouts, here are five ideas to all CEOs and SC Leaders in every industry to consider:

  1. Be Calm and Lead with Compassion

In moments of crisis, people are looking for leadership. Families are looking up to the fathers. Patients are looking up to the Physician. Employees are looking up to the CEO. The citizenry is looking up to the President. As a Leader, you will not have all the answers but these extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership.

One key leadership solution is to continuously remind your people that you are in control of the situation and there is never a reason to panic. Employees need reassurances; shareholders want performance and customers expect the same speed and quality of service. Bring them as much safety as possible and be compassionate in your communication.

  • Get Every Supplier in Order

Most of our organisations and industries remain dependent on suppliers especially from China for their goods (raw materials, semi-finished and finished) because of cost efficiencies they offer. As China shut down production to contain the spread of the virus, the effects are being felt across all industries in the country.

Now is a good time to do a deeper analysis into your chain of supplies.  It is time to re-examine your operations, supplier dependency and accountability. Suppliers (tier-1) are just the first tier of your supply chain. Your suppliers have suppliers (tier-2) of their own, who may, in turn, even have suppliers (tier-3). So, for example, if your organisation has 200 suppliers as tier-one suppliers and each has an average of 35 tier-2 suppliers, it means that you actually have 7,000 suppliers; the vast majority of whom you may not know.

This is the ripe hour to perform a detailed assessment on every supplier to understand their exposure and risks involved in your chain of supplies and their potential implications to determine corrective actions for your business continuity. It could be suicidal not to invest in mapping your supply networks to avoid operating in the blind so as to ensure better visibility.

  • Optimize Cross-Industry Collaboration

It is much difficult in the short-term to start competing. Large scale crises such as COVID-19 that challenge multiple interests must pull together diverse partners; both allies and rivals to survive the crisis.

The past weeks have seen businesses once in fierce competition breaking down barriers, coming together and collaborating to find common grounds to fight the pandemic. We have witnessed CEOs and other Leaders meeting to find common grounds to salvage what is lost.

The Ghana COVID-19 Private Sector Fund for example has collaborated with Ghana Armed Forces Engineers Regiment to construct 100-bed infectious diseases isolation and treatment facility.  Vodafone Ghana is collaborating with many key educational institutions across the country to ensure academic continuity as well as KNUST partnering with Incas Diagnostics to develop rapid diagnostic test kit for COVID-19.

If we continue to devote our time to this appreciable level of “open book” approach – sharing contracts, best practices, challenges, and opportunities with others, the direct payback will be bigger and more for all to share as these relationships give birth to new levels of optimised cooperation and consolidation.

  • Stay Informed on Data

Every CEO and SC Leader breathe, eat and sleep data. For the past months, all eyes have been on the Ghana Health Service’s website as well as the weekly update of the President of the country. However, there is huge information overload. Many business models and new technologies are churning out for consideration.

This is not the time for trial and error. It is important to keep your decision making focused on correct and timely supply chain data. It will be very helpful to go directly to the most reliable Technical experts for assistance. I must be quick to add that, one should however, never refute few directions from instinct – it really works in times like this.

  • Leverage Opportunities hiding within COVID-19

All crisis contains seeds of opportunity and as such, COVID-19 comes with its numerous opportunities wrapped up in challenges. What gladdens my heart is humanity, from time immemorial, has been noted to rise above such challenges, emerged stronger and made the most out of it.

The years following the Great Depression of the 1930s were years of hardship but also of frantic innovations. The same can be said of the second world war in the 1940s that also changed the world and even birthed the career discipline called LOGISTICS & SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT of today. You shouldn’t continue to sit back and be scared. You must begin to look for ways to go on the offensive.

It is time to rethink and transform some business models. Could this be a perfect time to consider your supply chain diversification? Are there production systems restructuring that needs to be considered?  Is there an emerging consumer behaviour to take advantage of? Is there a talent in the market worth considering? Are there struggling competitors you can arrange to purchase?

Thorough thinking into some of these areas can uncover opportunities and new ways of propelling your organisation. All CEOs along with their SC Leaders must determine what can possibly be harnessed out of this crisis.

In conclusion, our highest priority during this time remains the safety and wellbeing of our internal and external clients – staff, customers, suppliers and business partners. Above all, remember that people are the most affected throughout this pandemic.

The need for empathy is key. Your genuine care is also an important quality to hold that must be at display in these times. Reach out to everyone personally in your team if possible.  Don’t put your bottom line above your people but rather put your people above your bottom line.

We will get through this pandemic and when we do, I’m sure that history will show how Ghana’s SC Leaders with their CEOs contributed to provide our country and the world at large that bridge between fear and hope and between confusion and understanding.

The writer, Patrick Andoh, is a Supply Chain Expert and Vice President-Logistics of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) Ghana.