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Is your Supply Chain Ready for Whatever Winter 2019 Brings?

A group of scientists have predicted that this winter will be the coldest for 50 years, warning us all to prepare for ‘snow event after snow event’…

New data from a team of scientists at the Department of Space and Climate Physics at University College London has been used to provide the longest range weather forecast ever – in the hope of helping the nation prepare for extreme weather conditions. The team has studied solar and stratosphere cyclic signals from summer 2019 to determine how cold the winter months will be and has predicted only a 20% chance of temperatures rising above 5°C during January and February 2020, with first snow-falls before the end of October 2019[1].

While the Met Office disputes the accuracy of this forecast, it nevertheless serves as a stark reminder of the extra pressures often faced by logistics managers and supply chain leaders during the winter months. Here in the UK, a prolonged period of bad weather can cause large scale disruption on our roads and transport networks – and have a knock-on effect on our businesses and economy. When roads and railways are impassable or aeroplanes unable to take off, the disruption will be felt right across the supply chain, causing delays in the delivery of materials to manufacturers and stock to retailers – with reduced capacity in warehouses and transportation then adding to the difficulty.

The effects are long-lasting; delay creates more delay, customers get let down and go elsewhere, projects overrun and business reputations get damaged. The disruption has a heavy financial cost: while we all remember last year’s Beast from the East, the UK Big Freeze of 2010 is actually one of the worst on record for the damage it caused to economic growth. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) calculated that the extreme weather knocked 0.5 percentage points off GDP growth. Weeks of bad weather caused losses for rail businesses and construction businesses, as well as retail and manufacturing. For businesses in the FMCG sector, the greatest impact was the disruption to transport between manufacturers, distribution centres and retailers which cost more than £400m per day.[2]

So, what can businesses with complex supply chains and time-critical processes do to protect themselves from costly upheaval this winter? Here are five quick tips to help you get your business through the colder months.

Look ahead

Long range weather forecasts are a supply chain planner’s best friend. While the Met Office may dispute how accurate longer range predictions can be, having insight into what might be on the horizon weather-wise can help you decide what contingency measures you might need to put in place; whether that’s more storage, back-up suppliers in different locations, or alternative transport arrangements. Retailers will be well aware of how forecasts of snow and rain can affect shopper behaviours and may need to make plans to cover erratic shopping patterns, more online purchases or bulk purchases when the winter sets in.

Map out your supply chain

Mapping out your entire supply chain can help you understand where problems might arise when snow falls or flooding takes place. Most businesses will have good visibility of their first tier suppliers but what about further down the line? Oversight of your entire supply chain could prove invaluable and this is where the time taken to build good relationships will pay off. Maintaining great communication with suppliers throughout the year will give you the ability to work closely with the businesses you depend on to keep your business running when the going gets tough. Aim to have a good understanding of their processes and capabilities so that you can work together to build in contingency measures and maximise on any available flexibility.

Build in flexibility and resilience

Once you have visibility of your supply chain, it’s time to consider how weather might create a range of different scenarios. Aim to understand what knock-on effects each scenario may have and use historical data to build a picture of how business partners and consumers may react. This can help you to understand where additional support or flexibility may be needed. Always build in additional project or delivery time if you can – when there is bad weather it always pays to expect delay. Understand where additional capacity could come from for warehousing or transport and look at alternatives for transport methods or delivery routes. Spending extra time and resources on getting prepared for winter could give your business valuable protection and resilience during potentially difficult times.

Make the best use of technology

From stock forecasting systems to GPS data from your logistics providers, data is crucial to keeping your supply chain running smoothly in all seasons but especially when weather makes things more difficult. If your business is bogged down in manual processes, it may be time to invest in new technology or find a partner who has the software to provide you with the insight you need. Not only can better data handling and improved digital processes help you keep track of real-time events on your supply chain, the right solutions will also help you monitor health and safety and compliance, to protect your business from disruption and reputational damage.

Choose your supply chain partners carefully

However high your organisation’s internal standards, using the wrong suppliers and contractors leaves your business open to increased risk. Important considerations like working conditions and health and safety can become even more critical during cold winter months and spells of extreme weather. Always make sure your suppliers are fully audited and accredited, not just at tier 1 but right across your supply chain. Doing so will make your operations more robust overall and ensure your business is resilient enough to survive anything the winter throws at it.



Best practice guide to supply chain compliance now available as a free download.