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  • November 4, 2022

Harnessing the Best of Data for Supply Resilience

5 Questions for Siang Tian, Director of Operations, Grocery Logistics of Singapore

His team holds a crucial role, not just for the FairPrice organisation and its suppliers, but for the Singaporean population at large. Siang Tian heads the monitoring efforts at SCope, making sense of the global news flow, analysing how it affects logistics and the supply chains. We talked to Mr Ng about the importance of the human factor in supply chain monitoring.

 

You were probably the first one in Singapore who spotted the news on the container ship Ever Given running aground in the Suez Canal? What happened that day and how did it affect the country?

On 23 March 2021, the staff on duty was receiving a rising number of notifications from our monitoring tools, at a time when neither global nor local media in Singapore had reported that a container ship was blocking the Suez Canal, the main trade route between Europe and Asia. We immediately checked against our imports shipment data and found that there were actually several of our containers on board Ever Given. It was obvious that the vessel was probably going to be stuck there for some time. 

We investigated further and soon realised that several other containers were in the vessels that were queued behind Ever Given. The team put all this information together and went on to inform FairPrice Products. We gathered that the shipment would not be able to meet the delivery timelines, and hence an Out-of-Stock (OOS) situation could happen at the retail stores. With this assessment, Products Team went on to order substitution products from alternative suppliers to make sure that the shelves would not be empty.

You avoided a shortage in certain essential products. What are you monitoring now and what concerns you?

We are keeping a close eye on bird flu and swine flu. In the last three or four months, bird flu incidents have picked up, especially in North America. It has spread across the continent, and even jumped over to Asia and Europe. So this is definitely affecting many farms around the world. 

Singapore imports more than 80% of its frozen poultry from Brazil and therefore we are very concerned that the bird flu will spread to South America by the migratory birds. Most of the farms in Brazil are actually concentrated in the south in close proximity, therefore the spread could be very fast amongst the poultry farms.

We recently picked up news from Malaysia where local retailers said they were receiving less than half of the eggs they usually get, an indication that supplies on the ground are starting to dwindle. We alerted the procurement team that quickly checked with our eggs supplier from Malaysia to make sure that the supply line is not disrupted. Other than maintaining good communications with the supplier, our Data Analytics team also developed a dashboard for SCope to monitor the eggs supply from Malaysia at the store level. With this dashboard, we watch the supply trending of Malaysian eggs very closely.

What else are you watching?

The other thing we are monitoring is weather. As you know, we had a lot of extreme weather this year around the world. There has been extreme heat as well as intense rainfall which was taking a toll on many countries. Heat, for example, is affecting a lot of crops, like wheat and rice. In fact, as we speak, there have been updates that heat waves are hitting rice crops in India which might reduce the harvest there. This could trigger new protectionism measures, minimise or even stop exports. 

We hardly buy goods from conflict areas, but renewed Taiwan tensions recently affected the shipping traffic in the South China Sea and impacted cargo deliveries from Taiwan to Singapore. When such things happen, we will have to monitor our import shipments that cross the South China Sea very closely.

How big is your team and where do you see the main achievements?

We currently have a team of five. Everyone monitors slightly different areas. Despite having very sophisticated tools, human intervention is still necessary. The software might give us intelligence and data on what happened on the ground, but no software is currently smart enough to be able to interpret the multiple factors affecting the supply chain. Hence, a team of Supply Chain Analysts is still necessary to do research and assessment.

For example, we need to be aware of how bird flu could be spread through migratory birds that fly from north to south or vice versa, depending on the season and other factors. When the birds start flying to the south of Brazil and infect the poultry farms there, this might have dire consequences for our poultry supply.

We are also learning continuously about other factors that could impact supply chain resilience. Take sugar as an example. When we saw that sugarcane plantations in China were badly hit by floods, we started asking ourselves how that would affect us? We buy most of our cane sugar from Vietnam, which does not have a sugarcane plantation. So where does Vietnam get that sugarcane from? It can only come from China, because Vietnam and China are well connected by land and supplies of sugarcane to Vietnam is easy and economical via the land means. So there are a lot of different factors that affect the final product.

Where does technology and automation come in?

We have a notification system from our data provider and we are able to curate the dashboards that are of interest for us. When anything of our interest happens around the globe, we will get an email or SMS. Going back to our poultry example, we told them that we’re particularly concerned about the farms in Brazil. As a result, the team is now able to track down more than 60% of all the poultry farms in the country allowing us to monitor the situation on the ground very closely.

This is the upstream monitoring. Then there’s the midstream and downstream monitoring where we use the dashboards developed by our strategic analytics team. They provide a very accurate insight on what’s happening at the store level. We have, for example, the out-of-stock dashboard that shows data from more than 150 stores and alerts if they run into an out-of-stock issue. Other dashboards provide indications on stock levels of specific SKUs or show us when stores are running out of certain items faster than usual. We have notifications set up that prompt us on our mobile devices if there’s any issue.

To summarise, the entire supply chain monitoring is becoming ever more important to FairPrice. We have the means to look at issues which gives us the lead time to be able to process the data and make different contingency plans. So we can activate these plans even before the issue actually hits us in Singapore. These are capabilities that suppliers may want to encourage us for, in order to further enhance their supply chain resiliency.

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