It’s easy to run out of superlatives when you try to describe the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global business supply chains.

In the UK, aside from ‘essential’ supermarkets and pharmacists, most retailers have faced shutdown, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

It’s the same for companies of all sizes operating in tourism, leisure, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics, live entertainment, property services, the creative industries – the list goes on and on.

Amid the chaos and carnage, one key message that has emerged is the acute vulnerability of supply chain relationships to seismic shocks.

The ties that bind

Retailers, manufacturers and suppliers all rely on each other in one way or another, so when there is a move to lockdown, the consequences are at once immediate and everywhere.

While the focus right now is absolutely on conserving cash flow for desperate survival, it is almost impossible to think longer term and envisage a recovery.

But at some point in the future the crisis and its massive recessionary pressures will begin to abate.

When that happens, and a return to ‘normal’ business activity becomes less of a flight of fancy than it is now, smart companies will apply the learnings of 2020 to strengthen and safeguard their supply chain operations and performance.

So what should they think about?

High on the agenda will be a review of supply chain resilience, including the mapping of potential and actual risks, both upstream and downstream.

The bald truth, so cruelly exposed by coronavirus, is that any supply chain is only as good as its weakest link.

Clearly, the potential of having to manage a virus outbreak was simply not on the radar for most businesses.

In the future we can envisage far more scenario modelling and predictive analysis to protect against such a global emergency.

At the same time, a review of supply chain strength should also look at the risk human error poses to operations, and how to minimise it.

Tackling human error

Let’s imagine you are a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) involved in some way in supply chain management.

To maintain and improve supply chain performance, you will want to collaborate effectively with trading partners while keeping a close eye on your cost control, cash flow, lead times, inventories, visibility and reliability.

At the same time, most business sectors are witnessing ever-demanding customer-service expectations coupled with revolutionary technological developments.

You will typically need to find quick and easy solutions to keep up with all this otherwise you will be consumed by firefighting an ever-growing process workload rather than focusing on growing your core business.

Automation helps

While there are few, if any, systems that run completely on auto-pilot, lack of automation makes the challenge of minimising human error more difficult.

Common causes of human error in supply chain operations include process omissions such as taking the order but forgetting to verify if the stock is actually available.

On the specification side, a supplier may fail to deliver a product or component that meets necessary compliance standards.

Other issues that may be caused or compounded by human error including equipment failure, missing parts, under-delivery and not following FIFO (first in, first out) protocols for the shipping out of perishable goods.

‘To err is human’ – it’s natural and unavoidable. But by introducing cost effective automated processes where you can will have an immediate and positive impact on your business.

Moving from manual

Electronic data interchange, or EDI, provides a simple and easy-to-install web-portal solution that will centralise connections with all of your trading network, enabling you to manage orders, advance shipping notices, invoices and other essential documentation

One of the key benefits of EDI from Transalis is immediate relief from manual keying-in.  This has been the experience at simplehuman UK, the multi-award-winning designer and manufacturer of smart home products.

Following the implementation of a digital trading platform driven by EDI from Transalis, simplehuman UK immediately began making a time saving on the handling of each transaction involved in an order. In the first year this improved the processing of 27,000 discrete transactions, saving many thousands of hours of staff time and reducing the rate of order errors to less than one per cent.

When coronavirus is eventually tackled and supply chains start to be rebuilt, we may be justified in pausing for a short celebration.

But it will quickly become necessary to protect ourselves from the next global threat or emergency.

Minimising the risk of human error through greater automation creates a better chance of improving the overall reliability of your supply chain.

Making it stronger and less fragile may not shield you from the kind of global contagion we see today but it will help protect your business from most other challenges and disruptions.

To read our full case study on simplehuman UK, visit our Knowledge Hub at If you need help with growing and managing a trading network and feel you could benefit from EDI, we’re here to help. We’ve put lots more information at

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