Supply chain management has become increasingly sophisticated. Companies are now commonly creating an end-to-end, integrated approach to their supply chain – starting from their furthest upstream suppliers and reaching right through to their end customers – all working towards common goals. These efforts have resulted in companies experiencing lower costs, higher quality, shorter lead times and greater business agility.

However, now that supply chains are global and more sophisticated, they are also more vulnerable – i.e. there are more potential points of failure and smaller margins for absorbing delays, disruptions and, ultimately, costs.

A 2013 study (Business Continuity Institute) found that 75 per cent of companies with global supply chains had experienced at least one supply chain disruption during the previous 12 months. The costs of these disruptions can be high – we’re talking about lower revenue, increased downtime, delivery delays, lost customers and damage to company brands.

Avoiding these disruptions is challenging because the risks emanate from inside and outside a company. External risks include economic downturns, raw material shortages, political instability, natural disasters and regulatory requirements. Internal risks can occur anywhere along the supply chain, from product development and manufacturing to distribution, IT, finance, legal and HR. Shortcomings in these functions can lead to a variety of problems, ranging from a lack of talent to issues with regulatory compliance and interruptions to the flow of operational data.

With so many companies facing some combination of these issues, it is critical that businesses and individuals engage in networking activities and benchmarking to make sure they understand best practice and leverage insights from the way other companies address their challenges. Having people on your team with the right depth of experience, connection to your vision and strategic direction, and ability to match opportunities to your growth stage, is central to this process.

Your supply chain may well be the future of competition in your industry or sector. By investing time in reviewing your current practices and addressing potential or real issues relevant to your context, you can look to compete in an increasingly intense global environment.