Supply chain companies latch onto systems thinking

Systems thinking is gaining traction among supply chain firms.

This type of thinking embraces a holistic approach to analyse how a system’s constituent parts relate to and work with one another.

In terms of logistics, it allows companies to view the entire end-to-end supply chain as a complex, ever-changing and interlinked system. The result is better-informed decision-making processes that benefit the business as a whole.

A brief look at South Africa’s supply chain for the week ending August 25 is a good example of how it is the sum of its parts.

While equipment breakdowns, load-shedding and poor weather conditions impacted the country’s ports, rate hikes in the global container industry raised further cause for concern.

This was exacerbated by international air cargo to and from South Africa decreasing by 1% during the week.

Negotiating such variables simultaneously, whether they occur within the overall supply chain or the logistics company itself, is where the value of systems thinking lies.

JD van fer Merwe, Head of Talent at Bidvest International Logistics (BIL), offers the example of making sure there is enough talent in the pipeline.

“It’s ultimately a funnel that we see in terms of junior to senior level and making sure we’ve got enough people in there who can provide the company with the fresh skillsets at the right level and right time,” he says.

South Africa has acknowledged the significance of embracing systems thinking principles, but the degree varies according to factors like industry awareness, technological integration, and economic circumstances.

Where it is becoming increasingly relevant is in the field of engineering, now considered a critical point of differentiation for logistics and supply chain firms.

Engineers aid in developing solutions by translating data into valuable insights that drive informed decision-making that contributes to an organisation’s overall success.

Systems thinking equips them with a structured approach to tackle challenges holistically, where interactions, feedback loops and wider effects recommendations are considered.

Engineers are inspired to develop solutions that are not only more proficient, but also adaptable and robust, aligned with the requirements of users, stakeholders and the surrounding environment.

According to BIL Supply Chain Solutions Engineer Ben Reynecke, systems thinking carries numerous benefits.

“For companies, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, embracing a systemic approach allows them to better equip themselves for possible disruptions and respond with greater agility,” he says.

“Employing systems thinking also empowers employees at all levels to make well-informed business decisions, subsequently enhancing their alignment with the overarching objectives of the company.

Furthermore, customers stand to benefit as firms can respond more effectively to ever-evolving preferences and demands.

In the recruitment example set out by Van der Merwe, identifying high performing, well-qualified and experienced people may take a little longer, necessitating that people are built into the talent pipeline.

“Maybe they won’t be ready right now but with appropriate learning and experiences you’re positioning them to be skilled within two, three, five or even 10 years’ time. All the while they’re growing and contributing.”

It stands to reason that BIL will turn to its graduate programme when identifying entry-level engineers but as one goes higher up the ladder, so there is greater emphasis on the all-round abilities of candidates.

“We measure their ability to make good decisions based on the complexity of the time period and the assessment. We use this for the specific item, giving us an idea of what type of complexity that individual will be able to deal with and over what time period.” Reynecke says effectively adopting systems thinking requires a multidisciplinary strategy that incorporates a diverse set of skills spanning different positions within a logistics firm.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: