Picture: 123RF/KESU87
Picture: 123RF/KESU87

This year has been one of the most testing ever for the supply chain management profession around the world. It has also been one of the most rewarding.

From a field that not many people understood, or knew much about, supply chain management became one of the most important professions in the world when the Covid-19 crisis thrust supply chains into the spotlight. Suddenly, everyone was talking about them, recognising that they are more than just the logistics of moving goods from A to B.

More people started to understand that virtually everything that they use or touch  has reached us through supply chains — from the mobile phone in their pocket to the toilet paper in the bathroom; from the morning latte in a recyclable, eco-friendly cup to their asthma medication. Supply chains connect everything, and effective supply chain management has the power not just to ensure the smooth flow of goods and services from the point of origin to the point of consumption but to save lives, to save the planet and ensure brighter futures for individuals, organisations and communities.

This year, the vital role of supply chains has been acknowledged by everyone from US President Joe Biden to the ordinary Joe Soap. When Biden turned his attention to supply chains, it was compelling confirmation that the profession is indispensable. It was a proud moment for every supply chain practitioner when Biden gave an executive order to review the global supply chains used by four key industries in an effort to avoid the shortages in medical equipment, semiconductors and other goods seen as critical during the pandemic.

With cutting edge and attractive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones increasingly being leveraged to optimise supply chains and logistics, and to enhance safety during the pandemic, supply chain management is suddenly sexy. It has also been in the spotlight this year for the critical role it is playing in the rollout of life-saving Covid-19 vaccines.

Supply chains were also affected by numerous other chaotic disruptions. There was the blockage of the Suez Canal, the riots and unrest in parts of SA and the issues at the Port of Durban, the Covid-19-induced container shipping crisis, and the power crisis across Asia and Europe. Headlines are proclaiming that supply chain issues will affect year-end celebrations around the world.

Artificial Christmas trees, Christmas lights, turkeys, some TV models and gaming consoles may be in short supply this festive season. But after one of the most challenging years for supply chain practitioners all over the world, the overall picture does not look too bleak. Supply chain professionals deserve to be commended for their achievements in 2021, whether that was keeping essential goods on shelves or supporting frontline health-care workers by ensuring that personal protective equipment, medical oxygen and essential medicines got to where they were needed.

Supply chain management is one of the most diverse professions, touching virtually all areas of business as well as industries and sectors. Supply chains are not expected to stabilise anytime soon. In fact, it is predicted that the challenges will be with us until 2023, and that is without adding anything new to the pile.

This year will be marked as one in which nonprofit organisation the Professional Body for Supply Chain Management (Sapics) added huge impetus to its drive to professionalise supply chain management in Africa. This is essential to tackle corruption and malfeasance in procurement and supply chains in the private and public sector. By professionally designating individuals, Sapics will increase supply chain management competence, knowledge and skills, and industry professionals will have prescribed values and ethics to uphold.

The professional development required to maintain designations will ensure that African supply chain management keeps pace with global best practice. The training and support programme for small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) that was launched this year by Sapics is gaining momentum.

SMMEs have a crucial role to play in the economy as major sources of employment and drivers of inclusive economic growth. However, they are not supported, and their growth is hampered by a lack of capital and limited access to skills development. A contributor to the growth and development of SMMEs is an understanding of operations and supply chain management best practices, and this programme is geared towards building their skills in this important area

In an increasingly global, challenging, complex and dynamic business environment, an end-to-end, effective, efficient, agile, digitised and streamlined supply chain provides a business with a competitive advantage, but more importantly, optimised supply chains are paramount to building thriving economies. It is critical that supply chain professionals are connected, empowered and at the boardroom table.  

• Schoemaker is the president of Sapics, The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management in Southern Africa

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