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Why was the global supply chain not prepared for the microchip shortage?

October 28, 2021

  • AI
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Chip

What do manufacturers of automobiles, personal computers, refrigerators, and tumble dryers have in common? They were all caught out by the global microchip shortage. The list of blindsided companies with a disrupted supply chain includes some of the most advanced, technological companies of our generation worth multiple billions. How could they not have the foresight to be prepared?

by Michael Boguslavsky, PhD – Head of AI, Tradeteq

2021 was supposed to be the year of recovery for global trade, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way for thousands of companies across the globe. A fire at a warehouse in Japan and severe winter weather in Texas both resulted in a temporary pause in the manufacturing of microchips. As it turns out, the timely delivery of these chips was essential to companies in more than 150 different industries.

Michael Boguslavsky, PhD – Head of AI, Tradeteq

Billions of dollars in profits have been wiped from balance sheets. Customers are frustrated by the delays and the ramifications are likely to be felt for another 12 months, at least. It couldn’t have come at a worse time with the global economy still reeling from Covid and will set back the recovery.

For example, tech giant Samsung announced that television and appliance production had been interrupted, while car manufacturers paused production because of a shortage of parts. Ford put the cost at a whopping $2.5 billion.

This demonstrates the extent to which the global supply chain, and therefore global trade, is interconnected. If companies on different sides of the globe know how reliant they are on each other, it begs the question: who could’ve predicted the havoc this would cause on the global supply chain, and how could they let it happen?

Hard questions and head-scratching in the c-suite

That wasn’t a rhetorical question. There is a lot of head-scratching going on in boardrooms all over the world. Chips are essential components of the everyday technology that consumers and businesses use – from household electrical devices to heavy-duty machinery. How on earth did this fly under the radar of dozens of multi-billion-dollar companies across different sectors?

The shortcomings are further highlighted by the fact that these companies have access to, or have developed, advanced and complex technology that would’ve been considered science fiction a few years ago.

Large global companies cannot blame a lack of resources. They have some of the best operational and risk management systems in place, which ultimately failed to recognise how a microchip shortage would affect their operations and help them prepare accordingly.

The reality is that many companies didn’t take steps to mitigate supply chain risks or respond quickly enough. This is a moment of self-reflection and humility for the global business community. It needs to learn the lessons from this debacle and put improved supply chain risk monitoring and communication protocols in place.

Integrating modern AI advances into the supply chain

Numerous systems today enable companies to track how their consumers engage with them in real-time. Companies can send payments to their partners thousands of miles away, in real-time, and communicate with people across the world as though they are in the same room. Surely the technology exists to monitor risks in their supply chains, more effectively?

An example of this is artificial intelligence technology which can monitor risks in the supply chain and take steps to identify and mitigate those risks before they become a systemic issue.

If, for example, a supplier has a cash flow problem, or weather patterns affect their ability to manufacture a product, or an incident takes place that affects companies of a similar size and profile, companies can receive an early-warning sign to investigate what happened, how it might affect them and respond quickly.

This ensures businesses are staying ahead of potential risks and systemic events, rather than reacting to them. It is an example of technology making the global trade and supply chain ecosystem more responsive, agile and efficient; it reduces operational risks and means companies avoid the ire of customers.

Future-proof your supply chain now

Global trade is interconnected, and companies are more reliant on one another than ever before, which is why the impact of the chip shortage has been and continues to be so significant. The last year has shown that many global events cannot be predicted or planned for, nor can their impact be completely avoided. Technology, however, and in particularly AI models, can be used to manage and mitigate the negative effects.

Technology has been one of the biggest drivers for change in global trade in recent years. It can be used to digitise and speed up how information is shared and improve communications across supply chains. The former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once warned that companies should change before they have to – the past few months have given proof to that phrase.

When future incidents, similar to the global chip shortage, become case studies in business schools, colleges and universities, will your company be consigned to the history section or be acknowledged as a trailblazer that embraced technology? It’s a question that c-suite executives should address sooner rather than later, or it will be answered for them.

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