Harvard Business Review

Global Supply Chains in a Post-Pandemic World

The economic turmoil caused by the pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains of organizations everywhere. Companies are currently challenged to make their global supply chains more resilient without weakening their competitiveness. How can this be achieved?

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How can organizations improve the resilience of their supply chains while staying competitive?

Based on the Harvard Business Review webinar, featuring Willy Shih, Professor at Harvard Business School, this executive brief discusses what critical areas to focus on while preparing global supply chains for the future, including:

  • Using this crisis to understand vulnerabilities and reassess supply networks
  • Diversifying your supply base to decrease risk
  • Continuing to embrace globalization during this time of economic nationalism
  • Taking advantage of process innovations
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Over the last two years, issues with supply chains have arisen like never before. The primary challenge that companies now face is to improve the resilience of their global supply chains without weakening their competitiveness. The crises of recent years have pushed leading organizations to build greater flexibility into their supply chain design process through process innovations and implementing new technologies such as robotics and animation.

Willy Shih, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Management Practice in Business Innovation at Harvard Business School, shares his insights into the vulnerability of global supply chains, as revealed in recent times. He discusses tradeoffs and opportunities for firms seeking to make their supply chains more robust in order to withstand future disruptions.

The crisis has un-frozen a lot of these established processes… and I see organizations that are seizing that opportunity, and saying, ‘I’m going to look for new ways of working’... and I think those organizations are destined to thrive.
Professor Willy Shih, Harvard Business School


Who is Willy Shih?

Willy Shih is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is part of the Technology and Operations Management Unit, and he teaches in the MBA and Executive Education Programs. His expertise is in manufacturing and product development, and he has written or co-authored numerous cases and teaching materials in industries ranging from semiconductors, information technology, consumer electronics, aerospace, transportation equipment, manufacturing processes and tools, and intellectual property. His paper, “Restoring American Competitiveness,” co-authored with Gary Pisano, won the 2009 McKinsey Award. His book, Producing Prosperity – Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance, co-authored with Gary Pisano, has called attention to the link between manufacturing and innovation. He is also the author of “Back Bay Battery,” a best-selling innovation simulation.
Prior to coming to HBS in 2007, Shih spent 28 years in industry at IBM, Digital Equipment, Silicon Graphics, Eastman Kodak, and Thomson SA. He worked in product development and manufacturing in a wide range of areas. Shih has two S.B. degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a Life Member of the IEEE.

What are the key takeaways from this brief?

One of the key takeaways is that the latest supply chain disruptions have caused today’s supply chains to be marked by “deep tiering” and limited visibility. A second takeaway is that the series of shocks over the past 12 months have exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains. Third, the rapid increase in trade at the end of 2020 presented severe logistics challenges to fragile supply chains. Fourth, as a result of this year-long disruption, the focus has shifted to supply chain resilience. Fifth, there is an increasing need for supply continuity to offer opportunities for innovation, simplification, and distribution. For more details, download the executive brief.

How can companies effectively build supply chain resiliency using synchronized design and planning?

Gone are the days when companies could consider supply chain design as an episodic, project-based activity. Supply chain design needs to be constantly reassessed, refreshed, and synchronized with supply chain planning. The policies that governed the supply chain can no longer be ‘set and forget’ exercises. Supply chain nodes, modes, and flows need to be continually revisited and tuned as conditions change. Any changes recommended through such continuous design need to be factored into supply chain planning for execution.