Procurement as an essential service: What the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us (and others) about our industry

by Jon Hansen

Talk to almost any procurement professional about the importance of our function and you are likely to hear the same thing. We know we do a great job but feel that no one else recognizes our contributions.

Before we go any further, I want to clear the air. This is NOT a rant, nor is it a “poor me” refrain about how we do not get the respect we are due. Over the past several years, recognition of the importance of procurement and supply chain has certainly expanded. 

In the light of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone can see the importance of fully functioning supply chains and the impact they have on our daily lives and the overall health of the economy.

From sticks to cars and more

In the early days of the pandemic, the new strain of flu was limited to the capital city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. Concerns were focused on hockey stick shortages and the closing of European automobile factories. Of course, now things have dramatically changed.

In my March 14th article Supply chain Comorbidity: Are we doing enough to manage the COVID-19 aftershocks? I wrote about the risks extending beyond the virus itself. One example is the potential risk associated with a breakdown of the medical supply chain. According to reports, any threat to the ongoing and timely delivery of the medicines that treat patients for other illnesses could result in an escalation in care requirements that would push healthcare systems beyond the breaking point.  

Scenarios like these certainly put the great 2020 run on toilet paper in supermarkets around the world into much-needed perspective

Not just about shortages

One of the most important measures governments are taking to contain the spread of the virus is social distancing.

You don’t have to be a math genius to understand the above graphic and the impact that quarantines will have on bringing this pandemic under control. 

However, would the confinement of citizens to their homes work as effectively if we were not able to order groceries or pet food (or for that matter anything) online and receive speedy delivery? The likely answer would be no.

While all of the other previously referenced points are important, it is this last one that showcases the real value of modern supply chains. As is the case with lines of communication, if we did not have the needed resiliency in our supply chains to ensure a continual flow of goods, the world would likely be a much different and gloomier place.

Looking beyond the crisis

When all of this is over, and the crisis is in the past, what will the view of our profession be? How will our supply chains change? 

Recognizing the vulnerabilities of low-cost country sourcing and the risk of putting all of our proverbial eggs in a China-like basket, will there be a wholesale move to repatriate sources of supply?

What about the emergence of remote working for the majority of procurement professionals? Are we equipped to work exclusively from home both technically as well as mentally?

In a series of upcoming posts, Procurement Foundry will delve into these and other areas of potential change through which we will witness and participate in an unprecedented transformation of our supply chains.