We may have stirred the wave of, which has already killed more than 116,000 people across the US (tomorrow’s count), but we are far from wild. There continues to be a serious problem to our ability to fight future pandemics.

I am talking about America’s sluggish and outdated supply chain.
At the height of the pandemic in March and April, nurses in New York were working without adequate personal protective equipment, while warehouses in California were packed with supplies – and mask production lines in Fort Worth sat idle.

The Department of Health and Human Services sent ventilators to Florida in large numbers, while the Northeast desperately needed them.

The problem was not the lack of equipment.
America had a lot of equipment. But we didn’t know where it was located – or how to get the supplies where they needed to be.

As a result, we missed the opportunity to slow the outbreak and protect patients and our first responders. Lives were lost unnecessarily – due to supply chain inefficiencies.

“Lack of information transparency is the biggest obstacle to the global supply chain,” says Dr. Nick Vyas, executive director of the Marshall Center for Global Supply Chain Management at the University of Southern California. “It costs us billions of dollars each year and has a significant impact on the environment.”

I’ve been investing in people who move stuff around the world for almost 30 years.

Carrying stuff around the world is a complicated ballet that usually has as much sexual attraction for most people as discussing fertilizer brands. Why is it like this?

The best way I can explain it to you is that, until now, a supply chain malfunction meant your plaid shirt arrived a week late. Now, the breakdown of this complex system could mean, unfortunately, the death of your Uncle Harry.

America’s supply chain is the nervous system of our economy.

Currently, our nation’s supply chain is a chaotic jumble of competing companies speaking in their own peculiar codes. There is no data standard, common language or transparency between users. It would be as if we asked a hundred emergency responders to work together at the disaster site, but none used the same radiofrequency.

Think how it would be?

We lead the world in the technological capability to track goods and get them into the right hands – a process called geospatial intelligence. All we need is the will of Congress to streamline the data.

There are five steps to streamline data to track goods.

First — the United States needs to establish a secure “data highway” so users can see where things are, and how they’re moving through the system.
Second – Congress needs to adopt data standards so that everyone in the supply chain can speak the same language.

Third – Our country needs to make registration of some important properties mandatory, so that we can restore them quickly in distress.

Fourth – We must develop a tracking system to identify new outbreaks or crises.
Fifth – we need to use technology to measure and track how things are going within the system in order to minimize bottlenecks and maximize flow.

Streamlining the supply chain requires a coordinated effort at the federal level along with businesses.

Think about the way airlines operate. There are standards and a common language that enables each carrier to view the entire system in real-time.

Nowhere will modernizing the supply chain be as expensive or require a congressional resolution. Nevertheless, the results will pay great dividends to our country, especially in times of disaster. So far, dualism rather than opposition has been the main obstacle in the path of modernization.

We must have enough courage to change our ambition.

Without user-friendly data highways and standard information protocols, we are doomed to repeat the chaos and unnecessary suffering that we experienced during the  crisis.

China knows this is our weakness – as do many other countries.

If you’ve been working in the supply chain industry – you can see that China is working hard, and quickly, to launch its own data highway for the rest of us to use.

Have we not learned that information is power? Haven’t we seen that other countries want to control that power—and we?

If Congress If companies don’t work to adopt a common, universal system, we will lose information transparency, and we will hand control over to system architects whose purposes may be self-serving.

So far, our supply chain has been taken lightly. The pandemic has shown us the folly of our indifference. Now is the time for Congress and industry to fulfill this need.

Supply chain modernization may not sound like a sexy topic, but it becomes increasingly important when lives are at stake.

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