Transforming the UK’s supply chains to respond to future crises

4 min read

The coronavirus pandemic has tested the UK’s manufacturing capabilities to the limit.

Whether it’s protective equipment for our dedicated emergency service workers, or testing and manufacturing a vaccine for the virus, the UK’s supply chains and associated infrastructure have been under the spotlight for slow response times and lack of planning.

Looking to the future, we cannot let this happen again. To make sure that our dedicated emergency service workers have the equipment they need, and that we have the capacity to lead vaccine trials and development, we must build resilient supply chains that can adjust to unexpected spikes in national demand.

To integrate supply chains and build a resilient manufacturing capacity in the UK, the country’s manufacturing and pharmaceuticals sectors have to work with consultants to innovate and transform the country’s preparedness for future national health crises.

The fragmented supply chain problem

It is undeniable that our manufacturing companies have faced a unique set of challenges in responding to the call for more medical PPE. They’ve needed to restructure, refocus and reimagine the way they do business, all while ensuring their people can come to work in a safe manner.

The UK has had to ship in vast stocks of medical PPE from overseas during the COVID-19 crisis. Questions around why we haven’t been able to do more through the UK supply chain have rightly been asked.

In the context of procurement, we saw the COVID-19 crisis result in rules and regulations being temporarily put aside to try and make buying as easy as possible – the Cabinet Office did this in the UK through a Procurement Policy Notice. Adapting to these new circumstances can be difficult without proper commercial expertise.

Once items have been bought, whether materials, ingredients, machines or readymade PPE, they then need to make their way to a final destination. The increased demand for delivery services has placed this part of the supply chain under immense pressure. Without tech-enabled supply chains and a project manager overseeing the procurement, vital deliveries were delayed. British industry needs to think outside the box and identify alternative haulage and delivery suppliers to help pick up the slack.

Integrating the supply chains of the future

For organisations to be able to refocus quickly and effectively in the future, they’ll need to roll out holistic transformation programmes in rapid time. This is as true for protective equipment manufacturers as it is for the life sciences and pharma sectors. Medication trialling and testing facilities need to be tech enabled, and consultants must gather the right data to quickly adapt existing infrastructure to unexpected demands.

This needs specialist guidance, with consultants helping organisations to understand how they can capitalise on new digital tools that not only enhance their manufacturing process but enable better management of the supply chain.  

A delivery strategy needs to be developed and implemented concurrently so time isn’t lost. It’s a complicated task that, without a Project Management Office (PMO) – which encapsulates governance, people, processes and the tools required to plan, manage cost, schedule and risk – can’t be done properly.

Embedding PMO support within manufacturing organisations and pharmaceutical companies in future times of need will offer the rigour and, crucially, provide ‘one version of the truth’ to ensure alignment across the multitude of requirements and workstreams in a fast paced and unfamiliar environment.

Both the transformation programmes and PMOs put in place must account for a return to normality post-crisis. However, manufacturers and consultants have to ensure that new tech, processes and lessons learned are appropriately built into future planning and operations.

Keeping all of these strands in check – enforced through a transformation programme and embedded within a PMO – must be a robust digital infrastructure. Digitising supply chain management isn’t just an imperative for future crisis resilience, it should be a requirement full stop.

The challenges British manufacturers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic are, in large part, a result of matters completely out of their hands. The British government must learn from this to ensure a more effective response should something of this nature occur again. If we look beyond the apparent shortcomings in the nation’s stockpile of PPE, there are things that Westminster must do to make it easier for manufacturers to respond.

There is no silver bullet here. Asking manufacturers to deviate from their typical operations isn’t easy and the impact of further complicating matters such as furlough, social distancing and lockdown only make things harder. What I am sure of is that we have the capabilities in this country, we just need greater collaboration to unlock them.