It’s that time of year again, when the snow covers the mountains, the piste bashers come out to play, the chair lifts are running and the ski season comes into full swing. Many people travel to different countries and ski resorts to get that adrenaline snow filled winter holiday. Oh if it was that predictable. Over the last few years, particularly in Europe, snowboarders and skiers, including myself , have experienced poor piste conditions due to the climate and limited snowfall. As a result, all stakeholders in the skiing industry have had to adjust and overcome these issues. I have skied for around 10 years, and based on my own skiing experiences, I can safely say the supply chain industry can learn a few things from the skiing industry; from adaptability to measures put in place to improve overall supply chain response time dynamics.
Balancing Speed and Agility
Skiing can be a recreational downhill sport or a competitive winter sport, but in the past it was a means of transport for some Scandinavian countries, and was only classed as a leisure and sports activity in the 19th century. Skiing is regularly associated with speed and a fast-paced environment. However, speed can be defined as the ability to move one’s body in a particular direction as quickly as possible, essentially repeating a specific action but quicker and quicker. Whereas agility in sport involves the capability of moving, switching the direction of travel and body positions quickly and effectively in response to an altering situation. In order to control speed and move at a stable rate, agility is key. Skiers need to be flexible to the different piste conditions and react accordingly. That’s not to say they have to ski slow, just pick an appropriate speed at a given time and place.
In terms of agility from a business perspective, supply chain managers need to be willing to change their operations and strategies, essentially be more dynamic and agile. In doing so, supply chains are ready to respond to any unpredictable market demand changes at a swift pace. To establish an agile supply chain strategy, the entire supply chain network needs to be integrated. Digitization is one way to adopt this approach so that decisions can be made in real-time about all things involved in getting that finished product to customers efficiently to maintain customer satisfaction and be competitive. This includes decisions about procurement of materials, production, warehousing and logistic services.
As consumers have become even more demanding, with an integrated supply chain network, all the relevant information and data can be exchanged. Moreover, there are applications and software available, such as advanced planning systems, to facilitate issues like production planning and inventory management in order to increase agility. These advanced planning systems can predict changes in consumer demand and therefore, companies can make the appropriate alterations to the other supply chain operations. This can be done through predictive analytics to forecast any future changes and improve visibility in the supply chain. As a result, lead times are reduced and freight and inventory management is optimized.
Adapt to the particular season
Skiing is a weather dependent sport; therefore, the conditions can be very unpredictable and change over a short period of time. For example, in the morning, there could be the perfect powder conditions thanks to natural or even artificial snow, and the piste bashers smoothing it out. Come mid-afternoon, the sun could come out to play and start melting the snow to a slushy, sugar-like substance. This means that skiers and snowboarders must adapt their technique to not injure themselves.
With this type of activity, not only do skiers have to adapt, but also other stakeholders in the skiing industry. Another example, like previous years, last Christmas in Austria and the rest of the Alps, there was a shortage of snow. Due to higher temperatures, ski resorts had to solve the problem of a lack of snow themselves by relying on artificial snow produced by snow cannons and using reservoir water which ultimately runs out. However, this costs a lot and the snow machines don’t reach the whole piste, leaving some areas covered in ice.
Even in supply chains there are seasonal changes. Customers’ demands, expectations and buying behaviors are changing more and more frequently, particularly in correspondence to the different holiday seasons and periods of the year. For example, in the space of a few months it goes from consumers wanting back to school merchandise, to Fall themed products and then Christmas. That is why supply chain managers need to adapt accordingly, whether that is to maintain a competitive position or retain customers and sales. It would be beneficial to look at demand patterns before making any sudden changes to supply chain processes; production, inventory, or logistics such as shipping services.
Aside from seasonal changes in consumers’ tastes, similar to skiing, the weather can have a significant impact on supply chain networks and in some severe cases, weather conditions have the potential to completely shut down operations in a company’s supply chain. Take for example Hurricane Harvey that struck Houston and surrounding areas at the end of August 2017. Due to severe flooding, a large amount of exports, including important raw materials, such as petroleum, couldn’t leave the Port of Houston. This had a knock-on effect on other industries. For instance, petroleum is used to make plastics and resins, which are used in the manufacturing of motor vehicle parts. In many cases, the weather can be unpredictable, so supply chain managers should develop thorough contingency plans and implement supply chain risk management strategies so that the next incident doesn’t disrupt the supply chain as much.
In this day and age, supply chains constantly need to be improved, as different trends are coming and going, consumers’ desires are continuously changing and unforeseeable events can occur. Therefore, strategies and systems should be put in place to better optimize the supply chain network and to have a more successful company overall.
What are your thoughts on agility and seasonal changes in the supply chain?