COVID-19’s lesson in resilience and efficiency

"We saw significant disruption to global supply chains with COVID-19. Digital technologies, combined with global data standards, should provide tremendous enhancements to current processes, and enable contactless and paperless trade. The stable distribution of essential goods—especially for medical supplies—at all times is imperative" - Faye Sumner, CNZM, Chief Executive, Medical Technology Association of NZ Inc

International bodies, not least the United Nations and the OCED, have commissioned various reports on how to make supply chains more resilient against external shocks of the type that COVID-19 now represents. Those past reports have highlighted issues like the availability of key supply chain personnel in times of crisis, the impact of restrictions on export/import trade flows and diversions, the value of contactless import procedures, and the levels of visibility and flexibility that have been built into supply chains or not.

For New Zealand, COVID-19 has thrown up our own supply chain weakness issue, and it’s been at the heart of our national effort to stop the pandemic. In District Health Board systems (and systems of their suppliers), there has been a lack of standardised item identification and product classification in respect of personal protective equipment (PPE): The DHBs had no efficient stock taking and distribution capability. Questions by the Ministry of Health highlighted the issue: Do we actually have the 25 million gloves (or is it 25 million pairs of gloves) understood to be available in current inventories? Where do items of PPE go once they leave the storeroom for a hospital ward? How much is stockpiled and where? What are acceptable substitutions when approved masks, gloves and gowns are needed but not available?

The world has had plenty of convincing demonstrated that lack of harmonisation and standardisation of regulatory processes among governments become significant impediments to cross-border trade, and such issues become very pressing at times of disaster or pandemic. The availability of essential goods will suddenly be limited precisely when they are needed most. At the same time, international bodies and governments have generally come to understand that open global data standards will not only enhance cross-border trade during recovery from a disaster or pandemic, but they also build efficiency and resilience into border processes and supply chains all the time.