Navigating Today’s Supply Chain Maze

Christina Ryan is the EVP of Managed Services at Redwood Logistics and winner of the 2021 Women in Supply Chain Award.

As someone who has worked in supply chain and logistics management for more than a decade, there’s been a duality in watching all the attention cast on our corner of the economy over the past year.

On one hand, it’s nice to see society at large recognize the giant global operation behind making and delivering goods. There’s also been a welcomed acknowledgement of the millions of people and businesses who keep the supply chain moving every day.

However, this realization has only occurred due to the ongoing supply chain disruptions. A slew of unforeseen challenges has required time to address and fix, but the solutions being built will help establish a new, more effective, more resilient supply chain equipped to handle these types of hurdles in the future.

We must work toward building a more resilient supply chain, but in the meantime, we can only embrace the chaos.

For better or worse, the spotlight shines on us, and everyone from consumers to retailers to manufacturers and beyond will continue to look to those of us in leadership positions within the supply chain and logistics industry to navigate our way out of this maze.

What I’ve been telling my team is that for the next several months, it’s time to buckle in and stand tough, because the dynamics we’re dealing with now are here to stay at least through most of 2022, and perhaps into the following year.

The transportation market — including ocean, trucking, rail and parcel delivery — is maxed out. There’s more demand for goods to be moved than there is capacity to move it. Warehousing and distribution space are operating at two ends of the spectrum. They’re either full and can’t accept any more freight for staging, or there is space available and an open call for new inventory. But inventory is often stuck somewhere in transit. On top of that, consumer demand hasn’t slowed down and will continue to rise despite inflation.

For logistics providers, we’ve dealt with consistently high rates and constrained service by our transportation providers, and little to no available capacity to keep up with demand. Freight carriers, whether in trucking or ocean, are making up for 10-plus years of operating in a competitive rates environment, and it’s creating surges in costs for transportation services. Our providers’ costs are also climbing, in the form of insurance coverage, wages and equipment — and that’s not likely to change either in the short term.

With all the nuances and obstacles staring down the logistics industry, our ability to adapt to change has certainly been tested. Variables lurk everywhere: the state of the economy, transportation capacity, labor and employment shifts, COVID variants, extreme weather, a ship stuck for weeks in a canal on the other side of the world. There’s so much outside of our control.

So how do you gain control in an uncontrollable world? How can 3PLs and shippers steer through these variables?

If we’re in a constant state of change, and if we can’t control or anticipate that change, we must embrace the disruptions, the delays, the challenges. By doing so, creative problem solving and collaboration comes to the forefront. In turn, we’ll develop stronger partnerships and better solutions for everyone.

None of us are immune to today’s growing list of challenges, so the goal should be to forge relationships that help us weather this storm and ultimately become long-term partnerships into (knock on wood) less chaotic years ahead. To build those types of relationships — whether it’s with customers, carriers, employees or peers within the industry — we have to commit to the vision of collaboration, transparency and open communication.

Everybody’s frustrated by what’s going on in our corner of the economy, but if we go back to basics and embrace those three tenets, the tumult becomes more manageable.

We don’t know what hurdles might be around the corner tomorrow, let alone in the coming months. So the more we can demonstrate a willingness to collaborate, to be transparent and to communicate effectively and often — the more successful we can be in leading our teams, our companies and the industry as a whole.

It might not be an enjoyable ride the entire way through, but if we take it day-by-day and continue working together, we’ll be in a much better place than where we started.

Christina Ryan

Christina Ryan is the Executive Vice President of Managed Services at Redwood Logistics and winner of the Supply & Demand Chain Executive’s 2021 Women in Supply Chain award.

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