By now, people should have already heard many times the term “supply chain shortage” in various settings: semiconductor chips, ports, airfreights, toilet papers.

But what does this term really mean?

Which is why I found this article on the Atlantic very helpful:

Americans Have No Idea What the Supply Chain Really Is

Several highlights and thoughts:

  • Supply chains become visible when they have problems, not when they work well.
  • We the people in the western world have got used to the supply chains working well for them. Now we feel the pain.
  • Supply chains these days are mostly global. Therefore any single glitch in one of the steps in the chain will cause the entire chain to slow down, or even shut down
  • But supply chains ultimately are about people. We may be captivated by the robots and AIs, but it was people, lots of people, who work together to put the supply chains to work: assemblers, meat packers, longshoremen, trucker drivers… Those people who are hit disportionately hard by the pandemic.
  • One of the key reasons why Overseas shipping is currently slow and expensive is that those origination countries (China, Vietnam, Malaysia) are cutting down their manufacturing and shipping capacity in their own fight against the pandemic.

In the end, I am reminded what my dear colleague Dr. Peter Fox-Penner said in the recent BU ISE Annual Report:

“We’ve been permanently saddened by the scale of the pandemic’s harm, falling disproportionately on vulnerable populations while we fortunate white-collar researchers continued our work, largely out of harm’s way.”

Indeed we need to humble ourselves, and do not take everything for granted. Perhaps it is time to rethink how should we live, and how should we reimagine the supply chains…