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As the voice of Canada’s supply chain, Supply Chain Canada advances the vision that Canadian supply chain professionals and organizations be recognized for leading innovation, global competitiveness, and driving economic growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the accelerated integration of innovative supply chain processes and technologies, as well as investing in a skilled workforce, in order to ensure our economic recovery and future collective prosperity. Now, more than ever, Canada needs a comprehensive supply chain modernization strategy.

COVID-19 is continuing to challenge supply chains nearly a year into the pandemic. This is because for the most part, today’s supply chains rely on archaic tools, namely spreadsheets, portals, and EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) signals. Additionally, supply chain has historically been misunderstood, being viewed by the public and government through the lens of discrete functions and parts (ex. procurement or transportation), which tends to sub-optimize the overall process by focusing only on the efficiency of their own piece of the chain. Today, more than ever, supply chain needs to be analyzed through a broad, end-to-end, and interconnected “systems” view.

Let’s also not forget that labour shortages continue to plague parts of the supply chain (namely trucking) and our workforce of about 1 million is confronted by increasing levels of automation and digitization coupled with an uptick in cyber security threats. Tackling these challenges requires public-private partnership and an orientation of Canada’s supply chains along shifting regional, national, and global orders as isolationism isn’t the answer. Now is the time for industry-wide digital transformation and a federally led supply chain modernization initiative.

Supply chain consists of many discrete participants and functions, all of which contribute to source, make, transport, and deliver our goods and services. In the aggregate, we refer to this overall process as ‘end-to-end supply chain’. The best supply chains have a single purview over the widest breadth of that end-to-end set of functions. Today’s supply chains are global, interlinked and vulnerable to a range of risks. Supply is primarily determined by historical sales order data and not by actual consumption and market data.

During this crisis, latency has caused the dichotomy of shortages in some products and excess in others. Future agile and resilient supply chains will require more visibility throughout the entire value chain. Visibility will require more data and analytics while simultaneously prioritizing information security. Unfortunately, many Canadian supply chains and companies are lagging when it comes to the adoption of supply chain technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced analytics, blockchain, robotics and autonomous vehicles.

Bringing all parties in the chain to a level playing field is key. For many companies there has been an awareness of the need for technology, but many have not yet built it into their business planning and processes. Due to the pandemic, there is now a recognition that these areas are vital; many companies, however, particularly our SMEs, are finding themselves behind the proverbial ‘eight ball’, struggling to catch-up. These smaller players should have an easier access to technology at low cost. If we care about jobs and Canada’s future prosperity, we need to tackle the pressing issues of digital infrastructure and business-to-business connectivity.

How we train supply chain professionals will also need to change. Investing in reskilling our supply chain workforce will increase our ability to manage agile and resilient supply chains. We must support the introduction and acceleration of the education system for jobs in the supply chain industry: an education that is not just about textbook thinking but rather about reimagining the possibilities.

Women working on a laptop

At the university level we have a steady stream of professionals coming out of advanced learning today, but we need more talent flowing from colleges and trade schools, even high schools, where an education work stream could introduce young people to the importance of supply chain to our economy, and to the thousands of career opportunities that exist in logistics, customs brokerage, distribution, and sea, air and land transportation. If we don’t grow the talent, we will have to import it, or else it simply won’t be there and we will have missed the opportunity.

A supply chain modernization initiative with an end-to-end view of supply chain would address these challenges and others. It should involve practitioners and academics. It should involve manufacturing, retail and other industry sectors together. It should bring together our various transportation modalities along with port authorities and bring together various levels of government. With its network of over 7,000 members, Supply Chain Canada is ready to bring together great minds so that we can transition to a digital and data-driven economy, leveraging innovative Canadian talent to drive the next generation supply chain.

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