Agile Supply Chain Partnerships Boost Business Resilience

Events of the past year have highlighted the need to expect the unexpected.

When it comes to evaluating your supply chain, it’s not enough to focus solely on efficiency and costs. To build new contingencies in the face of a worldwide pandemic and the uncertainties of EU exit, businesses have needed transparency and resilience too.

Complete forecasting across an end-to-end supply chain allows for better decision-making and a view of the big picture. This has allowed some of our customers to change direction within a matter of days. We have supported our customers in implementing new supply chain solutions, systems and processes, and provided valuable expertise and practical knowledge of how to transform effectively in short windows. For example, when Waterstones’ stores were shut due to lockdown, we reconfigured our distribution centre immediately to respond to a fantastic surge in online demand for books.

Saving lives in a pandemic 

In the health sector, supply chain resilience in a pandemic is vital, not just for maintaining flow and balancing costs, but also for saving lives.

As logistics provider for the NHS Supply Chain, we are proud to play a key role in the delivery of vital equipment that NHS Trusts and other vaccination centres need to administer the Covid-19 vaccine. NHS Supply Chain Logistics helps to deliver vaccine consumables – everything except the vaccine itself, from sharps bins to antibacterial wipes, from paper towels to pens. 

As soon as the vaccine was approved on 2 December 2020, we ensured the products were immediately available, so that trusts and vaccination sites could start without delay. An expert team was formed across Unipart Logistics, with colleagues from Customer Service, Project Management, Inventory Management, Transport and Operations mobilising to ensure that all equipment was delivered on time to mass vaccination sites and 223 hospital trusts across the country.

In addition, Unipart is providing Customer Service support to the national vaccination programme, as part of our expanded remit during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which also includes dedicated support for the national PPE portal. Meanwhile, Unipart continues to manage the logistics service to the NHS Supply Chain, across our extensive network.

Throughout the NHS Supply Chain, Unipart’s digital philosophy is embedded throughout the operations. Our people are at the heart of driving this digital culture, and are at the forefront of highlighting opportunities for digital transformation.

Using digital tools to stay proactive  

Investment in digitisation is a vital ingredient in building supply chain resilience. It provides real time visibility, which allows trends and patterns to be spotted much earlier, so that a more proactive approach can be taken to managing risk. 

When the pandemic first struck in March 2020 we worked with a major automotive customer to assess forecast volumes – looking across the globe to see what was happening, and feeding this information back into our own predictions, both inbound and outbound. This meant we were able to use and target resources wisely. 

Simultaneously planning for Brexit was in many ways more challenging because whilst everyone knew they needed to be ready for change, no one knew what this change would actually look like. We worked closely with the customer to find new norms in the face of  shifting complexities. Key to this was working with the customer to gather, share and use data intelligently.

We managed systems for the customer collaboratively, which helped teams stay informed. We were able to bring considerable expertise and insight to daily talks, for example our freight team pulled hidden data into a dashboard that gave clear visibility of how many trucks were waiting at customs.

Get the right people in the right places 

The Unipart Way offers supply chain resilience through digital know-how, getting the right people in the right places at the right times, and working through problems with customers to find solutions. Our proven methods and cross-sector knowledge means we always have one eye on the future, forging long-term plans as we achieve short-term goals, and delivering business solutions that work. 

The pandemic highlighted the fantastic partnerships we have with our customers, and the importance of trusted partnership in business resilience. Through proven processes and adaptability, we managed shipments and returns effectively for customers, adjusting stock holding as demand went up or down. We increased shipments to retail stores when their suppliers were closed for periods of time and, as the dynamic shifted again with lockdowns, we moved the focus to home deliveries. Across all sectors, our core resilience came from our people, their skills and knowledge, their flexibility, and their constant ingenuity.