To understand the vulnerabilities of the global movement of goods, think about toilet paper and face masks. During the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic when both items were in extreme demand, the systems in place to move them from manufacturers to consumers were unable to keep pace. The global supply chain—an intricate network of manufacturers, warehouses, and shipping and delivery companies spread around the world—was not broken, exactly, but it also wasn’t nimble enough to work the way the world needed.
Now, a consortium of powerful companies and organizations such as PepsiCo, BMW, Shopify, DHL, and the U.S. Postal Service is joining forces with emerging tech startups to fix that.
In normal times, online sales of items such as groceries, backpacks, and indoor fans can go from order to delivery in hours. But when there’s a sudden surge in demand for something very specific—personal protective equipment manufactured in China and needed desperately in New York or Seattle—the global supply chain is not fully able to meet the demand.