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Why New White House Dashboard Could—Or Can’t—Help Address The Supply Chain Crisis
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Author of Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals and other Emergencies

The White House's new supply chain dashboard is a twice monthly collection of metrics that tracks the progress of delayed imported goods at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and in the economy at large. The true value of the dashboard remains to be seen, however, with the prospect that the measuring tool could have unintended consequences.

Thomas Goldsby is the Haslam Chair of Logistics at the University of Tennessee's Master's of Science in Supply Chain Management. He thought the new high-level metrics, "…are helpful first steps but they don't do anything to save Santa in 2021. They will be helpful in 2024 and beyond but the actions needed now [to address the supply chain crisis] should've been taken years ago."

Today the White House issued an update about the progress in dealing with the congestion at the two California ports. This afternoon at the Port of Baltimore, President Joe Biden will detail what his administration has already done to get supply chains moving to help lower prices, speed up deliveries and address shortages.

Improved Communication

Daniel Dreyfus
is the global customs leader and executive director of consulting at Ernst & Young. Dreyfus observed that, "The supply chain dashboard is a step in the right direction to improve communication between the public and private sector so they can work together more effectively to navigate ongoing supply chain challenges.

"Every supply chain is different, if not unique, and each movement is different for reasons that include the impacts of elements beyond anyone's control, such as issues related to Covid-19 most recently, or something perennial like extreme weather," he said.

"Having more transparency into the current state of broader supply chain issues may help global supply chain operators and logisticians plan for contingencies more effectively," Dreyfus concluded.

Too Long Of A Lag Time

Ali Hasan Raza is the co-founder and CEO of ThroughPut Inc, an artificial intelligence supply chain platform. Raza noted that, "While having visibility from end-to-end may help identify problems, updating the dashboard every two weeks is too much of a lag to actually act on operations. In short, you won't be able to manage any better, but at least you will be able to see what's happening.

A Database For Consumers And Distributors

Carla Saunders, operations manager of Consumer's Health Report, said the dashboard, "will ultimately serve as a database for the consumer and distributors so they can move accordingly and receive updates on major imports such as automobiles, electronics, and other supplies.

Saunders speculated that other "platforms down the road could potentially provide the country with additional accurate data to avoid a country-wide financial crisis, considering that AI has shown promising results in analyzing, determining and preventing financial disasters- the same formula can be applied to other problems within the country."

Not Much Useful Information

James Cassel, cofounder and chairman of Miami-based investment bank Cassel Salpeter & Co. He said the new White House supply chain dashboard "doesn't yet provide much useful information to help address [the country's] logistics bottleneck.

"The dashboard provides information about the problem, but it's not information that can really help solve the problem. What needs to be provided is a way of addressing whether or not incoming shipments can be diverted to other ports, whether they have available capacity, and whether or not trucks can be diverted to more expeditiously bring in products and get them to their final destinations."

Taking A Process View

Ravin Jesuthasan, global transformation leader at Mercer, noted that, "The dashboard is made up of three metrics that track the movement of product from when they get here, when they are unloaded and when they hit the stores. The dashboard is a great example of taking a process view of a problem and identifying indicators at the most critical pain points in the process.

"It would be too easy to focus on one metric (e.g., no. of ships at anchor) but that only tells you one part of the story. Organizations experiencing the pains of the widespread labor shortages would be advised to approach the problem with a similar set of process metrics so they can diagnose the key drivers of their specific workforce challenges."

Will Not Solve Many Pressing Issues

Oren Zaslansky, CEO of Flock Freight, observed that, "While a dashboard will certainly shed some light on the ongoing supply chain challenges, it will not solve many of the more pressing issues that need to be addressed. For example, trucks that are not utilizing all available space to move freight, thus increasing the need for additional trucks and drivers. If the government was more focused on filling trucks, without impacting dwell times and transit speed, there would be a more significant impact to supply chain management."

Useful For Forecasting And Planning

Dwight Morgan is executive vice president of business development at M. Holland Company, an international thermoplastic resin distributor. Morgan counseled that, "A central repository for supply chain statistical trends will be useful to help companies forecast and plan. However, it will be important that it not be a political exercise. It might be better for it to be sponsored by a non-partisan entity rather than the White House. 

"Given the dynamics of supply chain challenges and the likely duration, greater frequency [than every two weeks] for a longer period would be in order. In reality, there's probably little the government can do to quickly alleviate many supply chain pressures, since they are driven by the pandemic and its asymmetrical impacts on the global economy," Morgan said

Provides Data That Companies Already Know

Abe Eshkenazi is the CEO at the Association for Supply Chain Management. Eshkenazi noted that, "While the new White House dashboard may provide good information, it's likely data that companies already know.

"The necessary changes are at every step of the supply chain, data is just one critical aspect. There are simply not enough workers to manage the supply chain crisis, and until more people are hired and trained in supply chain roles, we cannot expect to see drastic improvements."

A Weapon In Future Trade War Against China?

Michael Gravier is an expert in global supply chain management and a professor of marketing at Bryant University. "The massive scale of evolution in our society and economy demand that we take action, or at least we study what's happening," he said.

"One fear is that the dashboard will also be used as a weapon in the cold war arsenal for a trade war against China. China will no doubt respond soon with a similar tool. Nobody has forgotten the importance of economics to the fall of the Soviet Union, and the bringing of China into the world trade order was a critical move in that long strategy," Gravier noted.

"In the long run, the dashboard is a brilliant move. We are just at the beginning of understanding global supply chains and how they influence trade... this understanding will inform legislators and policy makers and guide the executive branch in its enforcement and oversight," he predicted.

What's Needed Next

Supply chain engineer Barry Bradley noted that the White House dashboard shows the what—one source of truth for the scale of the problems in the U.S. supply chain. What's needed now to fix the problems is a dashboard for the why—root causes of supply chain bottlenecks stopping goods from reaching their destinations.

"With visibility into the why the action need is more clear and bottlenecks are more quickly removed, resulting in a safer, cheaper and more resilient supply chain," Bradley said.


Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare For and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). He is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/search/q=Edward%20segal#31ed72442

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