5 ways supply chain heroes prepare all year long

By | 3 minute read | November 20, 2019

This story is part of our #SupplyChainHero series. This holiday season, we’re shining a spotlight on the behind-the-scenes heroes who make it possible for their companies to turn events into opportunities.

When it comes to supply chains, the best holiday surprises are the ones that don’t happen. Supply chain heroes understand this – and that’s why they spend months testing and preparing for significant increases in sales volume and unknowns related to key holidays and events.

With hundreds of years of collective experience working with clients on the front lines, we asked our readiness experts to share five rules to successfully navigate a hectic holiday season:

1. Align business and IT. Supply chain heroes typically engage with key stakeholders throughout the year, reviewing issues and concerns from the previous peak period to ensure they are addressed or have an action plan. They start asking questions early to determine if changes are planned – such as new sales channels, partners or functionalities, like buy online/pickup in store (BOPIS) – so there is time to deploy and test without overlapping with important holidays and events. Prior to initiating performance testing of their order management system (OMS), they circle back with business leaders to confirm expected peak days and hours, as well as volumes. With a shared understanding of actuals and projections, they can align performance testing parameters accordingly.

2. Lay the groundwork. Throughout the year, supply chain heroes address security updates, patches and software versions in a timely manner. Not only is this best practice, it frees them up to focus on critical holiday readiness tasks as peak periods approach. They also regularly conduct basic health checks of configurations, operations and settings across their OMS environment. Any indications of potential performance risks or environmental instability are factored into performance testing. If they’ve introduced any new functionality or upgrades since the last big event, they make sure to model their performance tests to check those as well. Additionally, they identify any non-critical processes they can disable in advance of peak season to avoid introducing unnecessary risk.

3. Test the limits. Performance testing is about two things: starting early and putting their OMS through the paces. Supply chain heroes typically begin testing in September so there is plenty of time to resolve any issues and create a stable environment prior to the holiday rush. Replicating expected conditions during peak periods, they test systems in isolation and in combination against forecasts of peak orders, order lines, hot items and real-time inventory calls. Some supply chain heroes push their systems even further and test at levels that are 200% to 300% above expected peak volume. Thinking big pays off as they’ve been able to handle unanticipated surges in orders – such as when a competitor runs out of a hot product or a trend catches fire – and capitalize on opportunities.

4. Avoid unforeseen risks. Performing flawlessly during peak periods is just one side of the coin. Supply chain heroes also think about and test for failure scenarios and the ability to respond gracefully and recover quickly. How does the rest of the environment respond to peak loads on the OMS? What happens if a process upstream in the ecommerce system fails or if a power cord is accidentally pulled, killing a process? This type of “chaos testing” and having playbooks for negative scenarios gives them confidence in their ability to execute equally flawlessly during an unforeseen challenge. As the event approaches, minimizing change to only the most critical needs is also a key best practice to avoid introducing unforeseen risks.

5. Remain alert during peak periods. Supply chain heroes prepare for months for key holidays. But they also know that no matter how prepared they are, glitches happen. So, their monitoring, alerting and notification processes and tools must also be up to the challenge. Some of the best practices they engage in with internal and external expert resources include:

  • Regular standups to quickly identify and address any new issues
  • Proactive monitoring to detect early signs of trouble
  • Backlog mitigation with teams designated to prioritize and handle cases before they have an impact
  • Mobilization 24×7 with cross-functional teams equipped for rapid engagement

Bonus rule: Peak periods don’t just happen around the holidays. Supply chain heroes must put these lessons to work year-round to help ensure they have a proactive, comprehensive strategy in place to weather both expected and unexpected events.

So, cheers to our supply chain heroes! Thanks to their tireless efforts, businesses, partners and – most importantly – customers can enjoy the happy surprises everyone welcomes this time of year.

Want to learn more from IBM’s supply chain heroes? Click here for additional stories.  

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