BioPhorum’s Risk management in the biologic industry supply chain: a best practice guide was published in November 2020 by the Risk and Business Continuity Workstream to encourage industry to review its approach to risk management and to validate, refine, and improve current company practices.
We spoke to Sonia Schwantes, Director of Product Management at NewAge Industries, and a long-standing member of BioPhorum’s Risk and Business Continuity Workstream, about her company’s approach to risk management and what it learned from the pandemic.
How did you manage risk and business continuity before COVID-19?
Being ‘lean’ is core to many companies’ business models, meaning they don’t hold much inventory. We’ve always held stock, which helped us handle the explosion of business with COVID-19. But in other ways, we still were quite reactive.
Like many others, we didn‘t fully understand the complexity of our supply chain and had to learn to manage new and rapidly changing variables just to get orders out. As the ripple effects went out, we also quickly realized the limitations of practices in an industry that doesn’t manage change well. It made us realize how much we needed to be more proactive on things like interchangeability, forecasting, and communication to build even stronger relationships with customers and suppliers.
How did you manage during the pandemic?
With a lot of hard work, a little bit of panic, and more cooperation than we’ve ever needed before. COVID-19 was tough for us like everybody else because we couldn’t get enough people to handle the business, and everyone worked long hours to get as much product to the market as possible. All the while knowing that we were having a huge impact on the quality of life for people as we were supplying companies working on vaccines. It was probably the most chaotic I’ve ever seen our industry.
We sometimes had to do things manually because systems usually work well when everything’s flowing fine, but when there’s a major disruption, we have to intervene manually or else everything spirals out of control.
How are you doing things differently as a result of what you’ve learned?
The pandemic was a big learning experience for us as we were a fairly small company. We learned we had to start conversations sooner, pass on knowledge much quicker, and think about the wider pandemic impacts. We still have more to do in terms of understanding our supply chain, but we’re putting more programs in place and being a lot more proactive about issues.
We’re still feeling the fallout of panic buying as customers now have large stocks to use, so we must wait until they need replenishment. These peaks and troughs are sometimes hard to anticipate, especially if you’ve never experienced them before. This kind of fluctuation was unthinkable to us before COVID-19.
We’ve also learned to expect our customers to ask for different things. For example, they want to know about second sourcing but don’t want the alternative to be in the US. Overseas customers may want the second source to be in their territory because they’ve seen US government intervention to prioritize the home market over others.
The long-term impact of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and Chinese policies – we’re trying to figure out these issues and many more on a global level. There are still problems with some supply chain areas and minor panic buying because of new issues that have come up. COVID-19 is leveling out, but we still have things like monkeypox that may not be as global but may still impact the supply chain.
The pandemic brought the complex global nature of our industry home to us and many others.
How has being part of the BioPhorum workstream helped you?
When we meet, we hear people from different areas and what’s impacting them on personal and business levels. Virtual meetings are great but meeting in person means we really get to know people. We get that kind of interaction through BioPhorum and it lets us hear alternative perspectives. We shouldn’t make assumptions about how industry works based on a few people we normally interact with, so BioPhorum lets us view the whole industry and understand how other business models work.
Working through BioPhorum brings to light many things we may not think about, but just talking with people at a neutral facility gives us lots of industry insight that is hard to match. This takes industry to a different level than we’ve ever had before. We get a lot from it in terms of feedback, interactions, and disagreements, and getting guidance that we’ve been looking for, for a long time.