Logistics has been a challenge for firms with 73km traffic queues reported between Germany and Poland © Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images
Logistics has been a challenge for firms with 73km traffic queues reported between Germany and Poland © Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images

Better supplier relations a 'silver lining' for coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed procurement to the forefront while improved communication with suppliers is proving to be a silver lining for CPOs. 

Alex Jennings, CPO at packaging firm DS Smith, told delegates at the CIPS Managing Risk in Procurement and Supply Breakfast Briefing increased levels of communication with both his team and supplier partners is something he will look to maintain going forward. 

“We’ve been using Whatsapp, we’ve been using Skype and Zoom and making sure everyone feels connected with what we’re doing and connected with the solutions we’re trying to provide,” he said.

“We’ve been having regular reviews with all of our key strategic supply partners to a level that wasn’t there before and that is something we will look to maintain. It has created much more togetherness, joined-up thinking and a solution-creating environment that we want to keep.

“I thought it was going to be something we’d struggle with. I thought it was going to be a disaster not being face-to-face in an office, but I feel more connected to my team having not seen them for 49 days than ever and I think that’s something we need to take forward.”

Logistics and changing restrictions has been an issue for DS Smith, but communication has been crucial to managing expectations, Jennings added. 

“We move 1.5m trucks a year across Europe and we’ve been using tools that manage, by the half-an-hour, what has been happening across Europe at border crossings. We’ve had to deal with up to 73km queues between Germany and Poland. We’ve had pinch points between Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria and also France and Holland. 

“The real-time understanding has been key and then with that information, communicating so that manufacturing and your customer base understand what’s going on,” he said. 

During a panel discussion Jim Carter, commercial director supply chain at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), said the coronavirus pandemic had promoted creativity in the way his team communicates, and this was a “silver lining”.

“We’ve been using podcasts for our commercial leadership messages and things that people can listen to at a time that’s convenient to them. We use Skype and Zoom a lot. If someone had said to me I’d be having a weekly Skype call with the CEOs of suppliers, or Zoom-ing with ministers two months ago, I wouldn’t have believed them,” he said.

Carter added it had been important for the MoD to use its relationships with trade associations to communicate on a wider scale with suppliers. 

“We also have the ability to communicate with a lot of suppliers very quickly. I can send letters that will hit 30,000 suppliers very quickly using our trade association contacts. We can get consistent messages out there quickly and efficiently which is key.”

In the long term, Carter said the coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity for organisations to recognise the importance of procurement and commercial teams. 

“The supply chain is so important to organisations and it has been so impacted by Covid-19 and it’s really put procurement into the conversation. We have to grasp that opportunity, make the most of it and make sure there is a legacy from it. We know the importance of procurement and supply chain, but it’s not always recognised in boardrooms.”

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