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TECHNOLOGY, innovation and e-commerce will be key to building resilient supply networks of the future, according to new research from Asialink Business, supported by Toll Group.

The research, which included a survey of businesses across Australia and the region, found that supply-chain uncertainty is hitting small business hardest.

Thirty-two per cent of small businesses surveyed said restrictions on business could threaten their operations, compared to 15% of medium-sized businesses and 8% of large businesses.

Asialink chair Peter Varghese said the COVID-19 pandemic, rising geopolitical tensions and extreme weather events have put supply chains globally under strain.

“To remain competitive in our increasingly competitive region, business will have to invest more in resilient and sustainable supply chains to meet the shifting needs of customers in Australia and internationally,” he said.

Many businesses are already taking steps to adapt, a point recognised by Toll Group. The company’s managing director, Thomas Knudsen, said businesses face a challenge to transform legacy supply chains for the future.

“But we also have a unique window of opportunity to reorganise and become more adaptive and inter-operable with partners in the region,” Mr Knudsen said.

“With supply chains across Asia fundamental to businesses in Australia and beyond, agile planning is critical to future business success.”

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The research identified a trend towards moving production back home (onshoring) or into nearby countries, diversifying suppliers and boosting inventory. Onshoring is particularly appealing to small business, with 30% of those surveyed considering it as an option to improve their resilience.

To equip for future challenges, businesses need to understand and respond to this trend, along with three other major transformations:

Firstly, e-commerce is creating pressures and opportunities. Driven by Asia’s e-commerce boom, consumers expect their goods delivered more quickly and reliably than ever. Businesses will need to understand, meet, and exceed customer expectations that are shaped by a diverse range of platforms across the region.

Second, businesses that invest now in new technologies, such as automation, smart sensors, and data analytics, will be better prepared to integrate with rapidly evolving regional distribution networks.

Thirdly, evolving consumer expectations around environmental sustainability and social impact will continue to change how businesses engage suppliers in the region. For example, more than 70% of surveyed businesses identified both modern slavery and reducing carbon emissions as significant concerns for their customers.

The research found that adoption of new technology – such as the internet of things, data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning – are critical to supply chain transformation. However, Australian business needs to accelerate the uptake of technologies that impact their supply chain or risk being left behind. This is particularly acute for small/medium business. The survey revealed that 27% of medium business, and just 13% of small business are investing in AI for supply chains, compared with 42% of big business.

With a strong call to action to supply chain leaders to prepare now, the report also recommends stronger partnership with government, to support business to develop resilient and sustainable supply chains that meet the needs of citizens in Australia and across the region.

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