It has been a challenging year and COVID-19 continues creating impacts on people, governments, and supply chains. The global pandemic has forced the shutdown of factories, businesses, and venues, particularly in China, which had flow-on effects to supply chains and industries around the globe.

This rapid and unprecedented impact of the virus demonstrated how critical supply chain transparency is to maintaining business continuity, managing spikes in demand, and adapting to the economic and social changes – such as the increased demand for PPE (personal protect equipment) and responding to fear-driven buying habits.

With the very stark reality of an infectious second wave, it’s paramount that we use the momentum and lessons gained for the initial outbreak to continue accelerating digitalisation plans. While COVID-19 has driven many organisations towards digital transformation and intelligent technologies, there are many that still don’t realise its value in maintaining service while ensuring people’s safety of staff and mitigating the risks of future shock events.

One real-world example that helps highlight the need for digitalisation emerged early during COVID-19. SAP helped a client secure 500 hospital beds in half an hour, providing vital support and resources for building a temporary hospital outside New York City. Searching on SAP Ariba Discovery helped the client connect with a healthcare provider able to fulfill the order expeditiously.

At a time when supply chains were vulnerable in dealing with shutdowns, legislative changes, and increased demands, this SAP client had the cloud-based technologies and subsequent supply-chain visibility to pivot quickly and assist in crisis-recovery efforts.

This virus has shown us firsthand how important it is staying connected to one another, being available to provide the right information and resources as news continues developing rapidly. Real-time data ensures businesses and governments can make decisions when it matters and with the insights to move forward intelligently.

A recent survey of 1,000 supply chain executives produced by Oxford Economics and SAP stated 49% of supply-chain leaders (the top 12% of respondents) can capture real-time data insights and act on them immediately. The survey also noted 51% use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to capture insights, which allows supply-chain leader to react in real time to changing conditions—from widescale disruptions to individual customer complaints.

Considering the scale and complexity of transnational supply chains, it can be challenging finding network visibility and control. This global pandemic has stressed the importance of supply chain flexibility, resilience, and oversight, particularly as we navigate through ever-changing policies, market demands, and social restrictions all impacting on supply chains.

The key challenges and benefits of real-time insights embedded into supply chains were outlined in a recent Forbes article, listing the following: “Increased resilience; Greater visibility of actual customer demand (customer centricity); Increased operational efficiency; Superior visibility into the entire supply chain; and Seamless collaboration with other functions, partners, and suppliers”

Focusing on that final point, the Oxford Economics and SAP survey also noted 84% of supply-chain leaders said they’ve successfully broken down organisational siloes across the complete product value chain, particularly within the manufacturing sector, adopting the technologies and practices of Industry 4.0.

With improved levels of visibility and interconnectivity across supply chains, businesses can minimise exposure to risks, build resilience, and forecast with greater accuracy. The ability to connect disparate systems and processes brings forward best practices and next-level efficiencies. Real-time data supports all business decision making, streamlining functionalities while highlighting areas to improve or automate.

Intelligent technologies feeding data insights into a business IT infrastructure also improves a business’ sustainability practices, providing accountability and transparency throughout the supply chain to help reduce waste and improve production processes. SAP S/4HANA integrates different processes and systems onto a single solution, going beyond ERP to embed data analytics throughout a product lifecycle to create efficiencies across supply networks.

IoT (internet of things) sensors make data collection more comprehensive and valuable, providing insights across equipment usage and utilising intelligent technologies to trigger critical events such as maintenance and service. The data from these operational touchpoints help inform future planning by improving business visibility into every facet of the supply chain.

Hosting these data insights on a cloud-based solution not only helps digitally transform a business into an intelligent enterprise but sets the foundation for further automation and newfound efficiencies. As organisations continue digitalising and using data insights to make business decisions, they contribute to the development of a more intelligent ecosystem that connects different organisations, industries, and nations together.

COVID-19 has driven us into isolation, but has also amplified our need to connect, to share, and to respond quickly to changes. The importance of interconnectedness only increases with the capabilities of intelligent digital technology, especially during these times of uncertainty.

While this virus was and remains a challenge to economies globally, we should use this critical junction to adapt, improve, and build resilience to potential disruptions. It’s much more than just being able to respond and recover – we need to utilise the right technologies to help organisations, public and private, ensure people’s safety, maintain service continuity, and excel beyond our current crisis.

Discover how to help your business Run to Thrive with SAP’s range of digital supply chain solutions.