Dec 21, 2016

The 10 cautionary supply chain tales of Christmas

4 min
The 10 cautionary supply chain tales of Christmas
With the festive season upon us, supply chains everywhere are feeling the pain of Santa’s elves in meeting demand at this busy time. As if the...

With the festive season upon us, supply chains everywhere are feeling the pain of Santa’s elves in meeting demand at this busy time. As if the most active retail season of them all wasn’t stressful enough, eProcurement provider Wax Digital has shown that over years some companies have seen a variety of supply chain challenges that have threatened to grind aspects of Christmas to a halt.

Forget ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Nutcracker’; the 10 cautionary supply chain tales of Christmas each have a moral to the story that companies can learn from as the big day approaches.


  • The tale of the dangerous product: Last year’s case of Swegways setting on fire, and a similar thing happening with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 shows how rushing a product to market in time for Christmas could actually put customers in danger.


  • The tale of the shrinking supply: For many, Christmas isn’t complete without a cheese platter, but this year it might lead to a hefty shopping bill. Dairy produce is in short supply due to hundreds of dairy farms going bust this year, leading to a price hike by supermarkets.


  • The tale of the moth attack: Love or hate them, Brussels sprouts are a classic part of Christmas dinner. Sprout lovers will be disappointed that they’re under threat this Christmas after an invasion of sprout-eating moths.


  • The tale of the celebrity endorsement: When it comes to Christmas dinner, those who live by ‘if Heston/Delia/Nigella is doing it, then so should I’ can cause a supply problem. Back in the 2010 when Heston Blumenthal released an intriguing ‘Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding’, demand outstripped supply and it was hard to come by in the supermarket aisles.


  • The tale of the totally unexpected: Back in 1983, if you wanted a to buy your daughter or niece a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas, you had to risk getting a black eye and being trampled on. Cabbage Patch Dolls became the unexpected craze of the year, and the short supply led to violence in US department stores, resigned to history as the Cabbage Patch riots.


  • The tale of the pandemic: A winter flu is almost inevitable for some of us, but when poultry is affected, some of us might have another reason to stay in bed on the big day. Another outbreak of bird flu in 2014 led to many fearing that the supply of Christmas turkeys was at risk.


  • The tale of the worker’s revolt: Almost on a daily basis, we’re hearing stories of threatened strike action from the likes of Argos, Diageo and Royal Mail. As in the case of Argos, strikes do get cancelled, but any strike action that does go ahead at this time of year has the potential to cause delivery chaos.


  • The tale of the adverse weather: If you dreamt of a white Christmas in 2010, you weren’t disappointed. But it caused an interruption with Royal Mail, as the bad weather forced it to increase the amount of delivery rounds to reduce the number of Christmas cards and presents being held up.


  • The tale of the power cut: A power cut on Christmas Day means no turkey, no Vicar of Dibley Christmas special, and nowhere to power your new Xbox. This happened for many of us in 2013, and energy companies were faced with the prospect of paying over £4 million in compensation.


  • The tale of the DDoS attack: Thanks to the growing phenomena of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the rush for Christmas gifts begins before December, with many of us heading online to bag ourselves a bargain. But with this comes a prime opportunity for hackers to commit ‘denial of service’ attacks, putting yours and your customers’ data at risk.


Daniel Ball, director at Wax Digital says, “A significant chunk of many companies’ annual profits come from the festive period, but with this high demand comes the risk of losing considerable business and disappointing customers if a problem occurs in the supply chain. Provided companies have a risk management strategy in place, implement a sound supplier relationship management system, and roll out strategic sourcing, they can prevent Christmas from being a disaster and round off the year with some prosperous trading.”


Supply Chain Digital's December issue is now live. 

Follow @SupplyChainD on Twitter.

Supply Chain Digital is also on Facebook.

Share article

Jun 11, 2021

NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience

6 min
Joey Dean, Managing Director of healthcare consulting at NTT DATA Services, shares remodelling strategies for more resilient supply chains

Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.

The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.

A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach

“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.

“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.

But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?

“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.

Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes

So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry

“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality. 

“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”

Evolving Procurement Models 

From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view. 

“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.

“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”

“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”

But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?

“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.

The Challenges

These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.

On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”

He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”

As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”


Share article