Supply-chain operations have always been the backbone of our organisation, but over the past few weeks, our operations teams have come to the forefront by keeping goods flowing and taking on a new level of strategic importance. Runa Macleod, VP Marketing EMEA, caught up with our SVP of Operations, Kevin Brzezinski, to get the inside view.

Runa: Hi Kevin, what has been your top priority in managing our supply chain operations through the COVID-19 crisis?

Kevin: The safety of our people has been our top priority, and we put comprehensive protocols in place to keep workplaces safe, including daily cleaning of our logistics centres, deep sterilisation cleans at the weekend, and securing adequate PPE to safeguard our teams in such a demanding environment. Ultimately, it’s the efforts of our teams that kept the supply chain moving. But having a robust business continuity and digital-first, data-driven approach has also proved critical.

Runa: How prepared were we?

Kevin: We’ve been building a robust, reliable and agile supply-chain operation and network, one focused on speed, urgency and accuracy. A number of improvements implemented recently also had a direct impact – such as streamlining and optimising our logistics centres, and improving cycle times, inventory health, and global sales and operations processes. We were in good shape and were able to respond effectively.

Runa: What other critical success factors would you call out?

Kevin: Our Logistics Centre Operations have been instrumental. From receiving inbound deliveries and shipping orders at speed, to increasing the dock-to-stock cycle time and getting orders onto the shelves and visible in SAP to expedite much-needed product to fulfil orders to customers, and ensuring all documentation is correct for customs clearance.

I would also call out the rapid implementation of our business continuity programme and, of course, inventory management. Where we saw extended lead times, transit times and manufacturing closures, we reviewed our inventory levels with laser focus and simulation modelling. Making sure we had the right inventory, stock levels and availability at a time when vendor lead times were extended and constrained across the supply chain.

Runa: With the situation changing daily and at such scale, how did we respond to our teams and partners with accuracy and speed?

Kevin: We stayed agile with daily briefings, reviews and adjustments. We assessed any potential risks, tracked changes to inventory, reviewed transit times, vendor lead times, inventory receipts, sales, returns, purchase orders – making any necessary adjustments to minimise risk to our inventory and working capital.

Working closely with freight partners helped mitigate any increase in freight costs. We re-routed trade routes and shipping lanes where necessary, securing shipment capacity with airlines, obtained real-time data of visibility around critical shipment tracking data to minimise the impact of delivery failure, providing real-time critical supply-chain visibility across business.

And we also collaborated daily with key internal stakeholders in sales, finance, IT, HR, operations and vendors to make sure we had complete transparency, so we were not tying up valuable cash. Cash flow management is, of course, a priority in a crisis like this.

Runa: I’ve been impressed with how our people have stepped up over the past weeks. How have your teams made a difference?

Kevin: I’ve seen courage, resilience, commitment, agility, flexibility, cooperation and support for each other, and humility when called upon to rise to the most demanding health crisis of our time.

They’ve stayed late, come in on the weekends to support the Nightingale Hospital in London and other hospitals, sent deliveries to support emergency medical equipment, and gone above and beyond to help keep key businesses and governments operational. I couldn’t ask for more. This pandemic has unified our business and created an even closer, more forward-looking team.

Next: Moving forward: Kevin talks about lessons learned, channel next steps and opportunities for transformation with our vendor and supply-chain partners