Everyone knows that Supplier Relationship Management is important. Obviously: no manufacturer can produce its goods without suppliers. You rely on your suppliers, but do you have a good, accurate picture of your supplier base? Would you be able to anticipate and head off a disruption, particularly during a global crisis?

Earlier this year, many manufacturers faced unprecedented challenges with their suppliers as the pandemic emerged. As factories in China shut down, many manufacturers realigned their supply chains; as the virus escalated to pandemic, global operations began to deal with disruptions due to the suppliers – and their suppliers’ suppliers – status.

Many suppliers had to shutter temporarily; some may not recover.

This required manufacturers to move quickly, sourcing and certifying new suppliers to get their supply chain up and running again. Supplier certifications and onboarding, even during normal times, can take several months.
In a crisis, up-to-date, quality information is essential for good decisions, and to quickly respond to the situation as it evolves. When the landscape is changing by the hour, even yesterday’s data is out-of-date. If you don’t know what’s coming, when one of your smaller vendors goes under, you’ll be blindsided. Further, a crisis such as COVID-19 throws supplier trend data off kilter: while a supplier may have a great track record, the fast-moving situation is likely to produce new, unusual data.

There’s no better time to review your SRM system and processes. Ultimately, if you have a single source of the truth, you can head off a supplier crisis. There are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Do you know your suppliers’ status? Knowing a supplier’s liquidity, capacity, and other factors help you determine if additional or optional suppliers need to be sourced. Most organizations have teams dedicated to pulling together required supplier data. Unfortunately, the data can be hard to find; if it’s accessible, it’s often documented in inconsistent formats. Some manufacturers have tried to leverage their ERP systems to maintain this data, but the reality is that ERPs don’t store or manage most of the operational information necessary for building timely supplier scorecards. Additionally, making supplier status data available to other departments to leverage downstream in the product launch process is invaluable. It’s important that the information is painless for them to share, easy for you to access, and standardized for usability.
  • Can you see it at a glance? Most manufacturers today are collaborating with their direct material suppliers on critical business processes via email and spreadsheets stored on SharePoint or employee laptops. In a crisis, you can’t afford to have your team digging through attachments and drives to find critical supplier data. A portal that aggregates information from all your systems into a dashboard will save time, money, and mitigate risk.
  • Is it old news? Traditionally, decisions have been based on historical data, which may no longer be valid. Spreadsheets are out-of-date the moment they are completed. When working from out-of-date or conflicting information, manufacturers are exposed to severe risk… just when proactive decisions are critical. By eliminating spreadsheets and collaborating with suppliers via cloud-based scorecards, manufacturers can be confident they’re working from the best quality data.
  • Is there transparency? Do you even know how to reach your supplier? Having limited visibility into what’s actually happening in the upstream supply chain can result in costly surprises. By centralizing and streamlining supplier communications, you eliminate frustration and wasted time that can derail a product launch. Transparent, open communication and knowing who to contact to quickly exchange information provides better data for decision making.

During a crisis, it’s crucial to know what’s going on, what’s coming, and to have accurate, rich data for decision-making. This makes the difference between being reactive and proactive. A portal that integrates and provides a one-stop access point – a single source of the truth – can radically transform your approach to supplier relationship management.

This article first appeared in LinkedIn.