Maxime Firth’s business is complicated to manage, even in good times.
His company, Onduline, transforms recycled fibers into roofing material, after having sprayed them with bitumen to make them waterproof, and markets products in 100 countries.
Its eight production plants extend from Nizhny Novgorod in Russia and Penang in Malaysia to Juiz de Fora in Brazil.
Complicating his supply chain further, Mr. Firth’s business is highly seasonal. People install roofs in the summer, so the products are made from January to March, and sold from April to September.
The big question for him is knowing what the demand will be for large markets like China and the United States.
“Instead of making something that you have to sell, it’s better to know what the market wants to buy,” he says.
The impact of the coronavirus makes it difficult for business people like him to make the right decisions.
To manage the demand, Mr. Firth’s company worked with “homemade” computer tools mainly based on Excel spreadsheets.
But now he uses software available on the Internet (also known as the cloud) that can model his situation every week.
It allows the company to use the latest data to explore how demand could start to return to different markets.
“In terms of profitability, but also in terms of production, it changes every week,” he says.
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Coronavirus “puts supply chain planning in the spotlight,” says Frank Calderoni, managing director of Anaplan, whose Onduline software is used.
Some companies have seen their sales dry up, such as purchases of Mr. Firth’s roofing materials, which he says are down 70%.
But demand for certain products has exploded, including groceries, books, coffee, and children’s toys.
Supply chain chaos could last at least another 18 months, and possibly longer, said Len Pannett, chairman of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ UK roundtable.
Companies trying to get back to work may find that their overseas suppliers are still stranded.
The more information available about each company in the chain, the better.
“By being in touch with a client’s client, you can see ahead of time what is waiting for you” and start finding alternative suppliers if you need them, says Pannett.
Most companies monitored supply chains, finances and sales with different tools.
Joining these silos in a cloud platform allows finance teams to take a look at supply chains and sales, and be more efficient with money, he said.
And with tighter margins than ever, businesses will have to make better decisions.
According to Mr. Calderoni, more precise real-time information will help them do this and better follow the effects of their decisions.
Supply chains were already running in the cloud and he said the coronavirus will accelerate this movement, with technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) becoming commonplace.
For the Gulf State of Bahrain – an island – all of its fans, face masks, medicine and 99.5% of the goods on its market pass through its port alone.
The epidemic has forced the port to change its procedures, said Susan Hunter, who as head of APM Terminals Bahrain is responsible for the day-to-day management of the port of Khalifa Bin Salman.
The port had to quickly arrange for truck drivers to request passes, conduct security checks and make payments online.
It has also implemented a critical cargo program, to identify containers carrying medical supplies, to enable them to pass them quickly through customs and place them where they can be quickly accessed.
Ms. Hunter wants to move the entire administration to a blockchain system. “There is no resistance, just‘ How are we going to get there? ” “, She says.
“We are only steps away from the ability to put a lot of our documents on a blockchain platform, we see the industry changing that way,” she said.
The blockchain maintains a record of transactions in a register, stored on a number of computers linked in a peer-to-peer network.
This allows companies to share information about a container only once, but everyone along the chain can see that information.
This allows “the right person to have the right information at the right time, in an authorized manner,” said Richard Stockley, director of blockchain at IBM Europe.
Blockchain has advanced in areas such as tracing food through a supply chain.
Walmart asked IBM to create a food tracking system based on blockchain technology.
As an experiment, the CEO of Walmart pulled out a packet of mangoes, imagined that they were poisonous and asked how long it would take to find out where they came from and where the other mangoes were from. cargo.
Manually, it took six and a half days to find the answer. But using the blockchain “we reduced that to around two seconds,” says Stockley.
The biggest challenge in introducing blockchain to supply chains is to have different organizations collaborate.
“Blockchain is a team sport,” he quips.
But Stockley says blockchain can make supply chains “a lot more resilient, more transparent and proactive” and will get a lot more attention as we get out of the coronavirus.
Amazon has forever changed the speed with which we wait for products and the visibility of their movements along the way, says Adam Compain, CEO of ClearMetal, an AI supply chain startup based in San Francisco.
But outside of Jeff Bezos’s company, the big corporate supply chains are still pretty static.
Typically, every six months, a company reviews the time it takes for products to move from China to a warehouse and a store shelf, he says.
Getting more up-to-date information means making sense of thousands of product location information every day.
Much of this information may be poor or contradictory. For example, a delivery company can tell you twice that the same shipment has been delivered or is in the process of delivery.
But machine learning algorithms can spot patterns in this messy data. Maybe the same delivery company always sends two messages, but the first is usually more specific.
AI is now much better than humans at detecting if there is a storm that will delay your shipping container next week, said Pannett.
For thousands of companies like Mr. Firth in France, the coming year will be difficult.
“Now we know that until May we are fine,” he said. After that, “we don’t know if customers will pay us.”
So every week, his business, like many others, will make high-stakes decisions by combining luck and the best tools technology has to offer.