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Managing Risk to Avoid Supply-Chain Breakdown

Natural disasters, labor disputes, terrorism and more mundane risks can seriously disrupt or delay the flow of material, information and cash through an organization’s supply chain. The authors assert that how well a company fares against such threats will depend on its level of preparedness, and the type of disruption. Each supply-chain risk — to forecasts, information systems, intellectual property, procurement, inventory and capacity — has its own drivers and effective mitigation strategies. To avoid lost sales, increased costs or both, managers need to tailor proven risk-reduction strategies to their organizations.

Managing supply-chain risk is difficult, however. Dell, Toyota, Motorola and other leading manufacturers excel at identifying and neutralizing supply-chain risks through a delicate balancing act: keeping inventory, capacity and related elements at appropriate levels across the entire supply chain in a rapidly changing environment. Organizations can prepare for or avoid delays by “smart sizing” their capacity and inventory. The manager serves as a kind of financial portfolio manager, seeking to achieve the highest achievable profits (reward) for varying levels of supply-chain risk.

The authors recommend a powerful “what if?” team exercise called “stress testing” to identify potentially weak links in the supply chain. Armed with this shared understanding, companies can then select the best mitigation strategy: holding “reserves,” pooling inventory, using redundant suppliers, balancing capacity and inventory, implementing robust backup and recovery systems, adjusting pricing and incentives, bringing or keeping production in-house, and using Continuous Replenishment Programs (CRP), Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR) and other supply-chain initiatives.

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