Bain & Company: forging resilient supply chains
With the disruption caused by COVID-19 prompting organisations to confront a new era of supply chain volatility, Karim Shariff, Partner at Bain & Company Middle East; Sri Rajan, Partner at Bain & Company San Francisco; and Joshua Hinkel and Partner at Bain & Company Dallas explain that the pandemic “threw fragile global supply chains into disarray, many companies were stunned by their own vulnerability. The risk of depending on a supply base that is concentrated in one geographic region has been increasing over the past 30 years, but the pandemic quickly demonstrated how much chaos and pain one unexpected event could inflict.”
In preparation for an era of “increased Turbulence” leading organisations are rethinking their supply chain strategies to lower the risk of disruption.
In a recent study conducted by the company, the findings highlighted that executives ranked flexibility and resilience as top supply chain goals, with only 36%ranking cost reduction as a top three goal, down from 63%.
In order to improve supply chain resilience, 45% of respondents are planning to shift their productions closer to home in the coming years.
Bain and Company’s three steps to help companies pioneer the shift to supply chain resilience:
- Boost flexibility
“Supply chain flexibility is becoming a more and more important concept for gaining competitive advantages,” stated Shariff, Rajan, and Hinkel. “The first priority in making supply chains shock-proof is increasing flexibility for supplying finished goods and high-risk subcomponents.”
The tree executives believe that in doing this organisations would be able to respond to short term changes in demand and supply situations as well as structural shifts immediately.
- Rethink end-to-end network strategy
“For each value chain, leadership teams need to properly balance risk and resilience at the lowest total landed cost. This includes decisions on single vs. multiple sourcing, where to manufacture at each stage of assembly, and proximity to customers,” added Shariff, Rajan, and Hinkel, who also highlight the need to take into account multiple variables such as national incentives and declining manufacturing costs, in order to determine whether a product should be produced in-house or outsourced.
“Successful companies revisit their value chain choices regularly, especially in turbulent times.”
- Balancing cost and risk
Finally, Shariff, Rajan, and Hinkel, explain that as organisations start to understand where flexibility is needed, important trade-offs on cost will arise. “Investing in too much flexibility can render a company uncompetitive. As they look to reshape supply chains for the future, successful companies determine how much resilience they need, where it matters most, and what they can afford.”
Google and NIST Address Supply Chain Cybersecurity
As high-level supply chain attacks hit the news, Google and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have both developed proposals for how to address software supply chain security. This isn’t a new field, unfortunately. Since supply chains are a critical part of business resilience, criminals have no qualms about targeting its software. That’s why identifying, assessing, and mitigating cyber supply chain risks (C-SCRM) is at the top of Google and NIST’s respective agendas.
High-Profile Supply Chain Attacks
According to Google, no comprehensive end-to-end framework exists to mitigate threats across the software supply chain. [Yet] ‘there is an urgent need for a solution in the face of the eye-opening, multi-billion-dollar attacks in recent months...some of which could have been prevented or made more difficult’.
Here are several of the largest cybersecurity failures in recent months:
- SolarWinds. Alleged Russian hackers slipped malicious code into a routine software update, which they then used as a Trojan horse for a massive cyberattack.
- Codecov. Attackers used automation to collect credentials and raid ‘additional resources’, such as data from other software development vendors.
- Malicious attacks on open-source repositories. Out of 1,000 GitHub accounts, more than one in five contained at least one dependency confusion-related misconfiguration.
As a result of these attacks and Biden’s recent cybersecurity mandate, NIST and Google took action. NIST held a 1,400-person workshop and published 150 papers worth of recommendations from Microsoft, Synopsys, The Linux Foundation, and other software experts; Google will work with popular source, build, and packaging platforms to help companies implement and excel at their SLSA framework.
What Are Their Recommendations?
Here’s a quick recap: NIST has grouped together recommendations to create federal standards; Google has developed an end-to-end framework called Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA)—pronounced “Salsa”. Both address software procurement and security.
Now, here’s the slightly more in-depth version:
- NIST. The organisation wants more ‘rigorous and predictable’ ways to secure critical software. They suggest that firms use vulnerability disclosure programmes (VDP) and software bills of materials (SBOM), consider simplifying their software and give at least one developer per project security training.
- Google. The company thinks that SLSA will encompass the source-build-publish software workflow. Essentially, the four-level framework helps businesses make informed choices about the security of the software they use, with SLSA 4 representing an ideal end state.
If this all sounds very abstract, consider the recent SolarWinds attack. The attacker compromised the build platform, installed an implant, and injected malicious behaviour during each build. According to Google, higher SLSA levels would have required stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult for the attacker to succeed.
How Do The Proposals Differ?
As Brian Fox, the co-founder and CTO at Sonatype, sees it, NIST and Google have created proposals that complement each other. ‘The NIST [version] is focused on defining minimum requirements for software sold to the government’, he explained, while Google ‘goes [further] and proposes a specific model for scoring the supply chain. NIST is currently focused on the “what”. Google, along with other industry leaders, is grappling with the “how”’.