Friday 19th Apr 2019 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Winner: International Federation of the Red Cross

All of the industry sector winners were of course reviewed for the most prestigious Award of all, that of Overall Winner – by definition, they all display excellence in at least parts of their supply chain operations. The final choice came down to Cisco, BAT, or IFRC

This is where judges can get really cruel. Obviously, they’ve already decided that all three of these entries are excellent in their own way, so how can they be separated? In the end, the judges decided not to go for BAT on the grounds that their supply chain transformation, although it is already demonstrably effective, isn’t yet fully deployed. Next year, perhaps?

They looked at Cisco. What is there not to like? A supply chain that gives incredibly effective support to some of their customers’ most critical operations, and which is being refined almost to the point where a spare or replacement turns up before the user knows he has a problem. On the other hand, the judges noted that a lot of the secret of Cisco’s success isn’t about what they do themselves: it’s about their skill and ability in selecting and managing supply chain partners. You can argue that that is actually the most difficult supply chain skill of all to acquire; but the trophy isn’t really big enough to carry the names of all Cisco’s partners.

The IFRC very nearly won a sector award last year – in a period when humanitarian disasters, natural or man-made, were occurring on an almost weekly basis, last year’s judges faced real moral turmoil in not awarding a prize to the Red Cross. The reasoning, though, was that, rather like BAT this year, the IFRC’s supply chain transformation was still a work-in-progress – although impressive results were already apparent, they wanted to wait and see the full picture. Well, this year that process is more or less complete, or as complete as any supply chain process can be, and IFRC has an organisation capable of delivering efficiently, effectively and speedily. That it can do this around the world, in the face of the most extreme natural and human barriers, with no possibility of predicting in advance the location, scale or complexity of the problem, and with no more than moral force to ensure that funders and suppliers deliver on their promises, is remarkable.

Particularly so since, as Ian Heigh, Head of Regional Logistics, explains, the Red Cross is very far from being a single organisation. the movement is made up of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), but also 185 member societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and anything up to 214 million volunteers’. [The distinction is that ICRC has a mandate for conflict areas, IFRC covers natural disasters – national societies therefore may be working within an IFRC or ICRC framework, or indeed in a more localised problem, independently]. IFRC has four core areas of activity – promoting humanitarian principles, disaster response, disaster preparedness, and health and care in the community. Disaster response is of course the headlinegrabber, but one of IFRC’s tasks is to help build the capabilities of national societies in all these areas. Heigh says ‘IFRC seeks to assist the most vulnerable through building local capacity in the national societies so that they can respond to disasters. It’s only when this capability is overwhelmed that regional and international assets may be mobilised to assist’.

So the IFRC logistics ‘mission statement’ is ‘to support any responding national society to prepare for and (when required) assist in the co-ordination of sourcing, procurement, warehousing and transport of relief goods and equipment to meet the specified and required needs at least cost’.

Nonetheless, says Heigh, ‘disaster response continues to represent the largest proportion of the IFRC’s work. Where local structures are overwhelmed, and a request for international assistance made, Regional Disaster Response Teams are launched to support the relevant national society. If the need goes further, we gave global disaster tools, Emergency Response Units, held in permanent readiness. ERUs include logistics, IT/telecom, relief, field hospital, basic health care, water and sanitation units, and once on the ground these are co-ordinated by a Field Assessment and Coordination Team’.

The key services that Heigh’s team can deliver include: definition of standard processes and provision of logistics tools and information systems to manage emergency
response; standardised logistics training in the national societies; providing specialist logistics personnel for operations support; providing specialist Emergency Response Units as required; co-ordinating on a regional basis resources that may have been mobilised by other national societies or other donors; procurement, transport and storage, and provision if required of specialist 4X4 and 6X6 vehicle fleets; and co-ordinating with other agencies and actors to minimise duplication.

There is a lot more to IFRC than logistics, but in this field the core tools and resources include the logistics teams themselves – there are teams trained up within the national societies, international specialists that can be drawn on as required, and a permanent core of specialists based at HQ or in regional centres. Information systems are now webbased, enabling resources to be donated or procured, and tracked from source to distribution – also allowing local, regional and overall management/control, and for all to access common data such as disaster information, the emergency items catalogue, and standard logistics ‘tools’.

The catalogue comprises around 7,000 standard emergency items: relief workers know what they are going to be, how to use them, and that they are consistent in quality and availability. Base training across the world covers supply chain activities from assessment and mobilisation to procurement, warehousing and fleet management. All this is managed through a central strategic team based in Geneva, supporting three regional logistics units and a global fleetbase, which can call on pre-positioned stocks and regional supplier framework agreements for rapid response, and the Logistics Emergency Response Unit personnel and equipment can be deployable in 24 hours. Obviously, then, the effectiveness of IFRC is the result of a necessarily highly dispersed effort, albeit one which benefits from globally standard operating procedures and information, and national societies necessarily enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The systems and processes do now appear to be in place to enable this co-ordinating role.

When the judges looked at IFRC last year they were slightly concerned at whether the changes that were then well underway would actually achieve the desired objectives. It
had, after all, been an even worse period than usual for natural disasters, opening with the Asian tsunami and closing with the Pakistan/Kashmir earthquake. There had in particular been criticisms voiced, fairly or unfairly, that IFRC’s undoubtedly rapid initial response to crises was not necessarily fully reflected in the ‘mopping up’ phases. It was, equally, clear that IFRC was aware of these potential problems and had plans in hand to address them.

Our assessors and judges can affirm that those plans have indeed been implemented with considerable success, but without compromising the ethos of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. This is not an organisation that can impose a single global view on its constituent bodies: what it can do, and clearly is succeeding in doing, is to bring to the national societies, the volunteers, and the other assistance donors, clarity, visibility and structure – precisely those aspects of life that disappear first when nature strikes.

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