Survival of the Fittest

The BP oil spill has been drawing focus to the environmental damage such a disaster has on an already fragile ecosystem. But certain industries within manufacturing have their own endangered ecosystems — just take a look at any long, complicated supply chain. 

Just like an ocean ecosystem, long, drawn-out supply chains can easily wreck havoc on partners up or down the chain. Affect one member of the supply chain and the rest will be equally hurting. 

The Big Three automakers are a perfect example of the fragility of supply chains today. Critics of the bailout of GM and Chrysler often point out that, like any good capitalist economy, businesses come and go and the automakers should be left to their own fates. But what happens when that business affects hundreds if not thousands of others? 

Boeing, which outsources a majority of its parts through suppliers, failed to keep its supply chain on schedule — along with numerous other setbacks — and is now looking to push its delivery of the highly anticipated 787 passenger plane into 2011 — more than two years behind schedule.  

If your company is part of a supply chain, are you aware of how far up or down the chain your products reach? If your biggest supplier went out of business, would you soon follow suit? The more complicated the supply chain, the more manufacturers need to be aware of the effect their business has on others, as well as their suppliers’ effect on their own operations. 

Scientists are unsure just how much of a disastrous effect the spill will have on marine life, but unlike the ocean’s lifeline, manufacturers can closely monitor any supply chain disruptions and quickly come up with a Plan B.  

Increasing the visibility of your supply chain should be your first step to survival. Talk to your suppliers to find ways to share information in real time. The more visibility you have, the greater you’ll be able to plan ahead. In addition, having your own real-time info at hand will put you at a competitive advantage. 

Regardless of increased visibility, disasters can still happen. BP may have had safeguards in place, but those safeguards clearly failed. There was no Plan B. Saving your own operational ecosystem may mean quickly adapting to and implementing new ideas. To survive, the fittest will find ways to diversify or add new products or revenue sources to keep their own species from being wiped out.