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Hybrid threats and the future of supply chain management


The term hybrid threat came of age during the global war on terror, which is still playing its brutal game. A hybrid threat is used to define threats that combine regular and irregular forces and all other criminal forces, all united to achieve a common goal. The use of hybrid threats shows the many different actors involved and how complex conflict can be, especially in this day and age.

The hybrid threat in supply chain management is quite different from the counter-terrorism hybrid threat we all know; however, they both have similar final roots.

For years, supply chain risk management professionals and analysts have used regular contributors such as hurricanes and all other forms of natural and man-made disasters to challenge supply chain risk mitigation strategies and planning schemes.

Advanced technology diffusion and supply chain reliability are high-risk areas that are vulnerable to attack as we move into the supply chain of the future

There are other common actors that threaten the supply chains of most organizations; some of these threats are regional conflicts and predictable geopolitical landscape along with socio-economic issues. These and many others are some of the common actors that most supply chains have to deal with in order to get goods and services from their point of origin to their intended customers.

Over the past 5-7 years, we have witnessed a series of supply chain actors or adversaries that have simultaneously and adaptively used a fused mix of conventional and irregular threats to knowingly and unknowingly disrupt global, regional and national supply chains. The cyber attack on Maersk estimated to cost the company $300 million, the blockade of Qatar due to its alleged support for terrorism, Brexit, the rise of ISIS attacks, the rise of disputes in international law and governance, the challenge of globalization through the rise of populist ideologies, the rise of maritime disputes, the threat to free trade, the crisis in Ukraine and Russia, the problem of migration in Europe and a number of political and economic uncertainties. All these mentions are just some of the various existing threats and new irregular/unconventional threats that reflect a significant impact on the movement of goods and services around the world.

The rise in the number of hybrid threats shows that the supply chain risk management framework for all organizations must be constantly revised to meet the ever-changing and dynamic vulnerabilities and threats that confront it every day. It is one thing for a supply chain to build resilience to effectively help absorb some of these threats, which may be inevitable, and another to deal with them.

Any supply chain that wants to compete in the future needs to have a supply chain that is resilient and can attack some of these threats because defenses are not enough to deal with some of these threats. The diffusion of advanced technology and the reliability of supply chains are high-risk areas that are vulnerable to attack as we move into the supply chain of the future.

The future of supply chain shows a heavy reliance on the digital footprint and cyber technologies, and this will be an area of ​​interest for various supply chain adversaries, whoever they may be. Organizations are exposed to vulnerabilities on a daily basis, and most organizations do not have the means to deal with the consequences. An attack on an organization directly affects the cost of the product and services, as well as the supply chain. Globalization has facilitated the long supply chain we face today, and the longer the chain, the more complex and the more sensitive it is. If product A is produced in country X for consumption in country B, country Y is not friends with country B, but with country X. Don’t be surprised if you find your supply chain under attack from country Y.

Since the advent of supply chain management in the business world, the modus operandi has been to adopt defensive tactics or ways of working in an organization that deals with supply chain risk management. This defensive operational mindset can be attributed to how supply chain management emerged in the business world. Many organizations still do not see supply chain management as a functional part of the organization. Today, we are finally seeing C-level positions in many organizations that view supply chain management as a core functional part of their organization. There are still many organizations that still combine supply chain management with other functional areas within the organization.

It is this history of slow integration and lack of recognition of the supply chain management function within the organization that hinders the ability of supply chain risk managers to mitigate future threats. One of the main defensive tactics of supply chain management should be to depend on other functional areas of the organization before acting. Many supply chain systems are reactive in nature and therefore a defensive mode of operation is the only possible way of operating. In a reactionary mode of operation, it will be extremely difficult to have an offensive attitude.

Threats to the future of the supply chain can only be countered with a combination of offensive and defensive approaches. Some organizations are already in defensive and offensive mode of operation, and some see no reason to do so. This operational mindset will determine the competitiveness of organizations in the future.

We must ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be offensive in supply chain management?” The answer is really simple; an offensive approach in the context of supply chain management is always looking for ways to position the organization through supply chain management to project power; they do this by always looking for ways to be innovative and counter any perceived weaknesses before exploiting them. Every supply chain has a weak link, the ability to protect and defend the weak link is key. An offensive approach will be independent of other core business functions in the organization, and most importantly, an offensive approach looks for ways to understand and approach challenges before they occur.

The future of supply chains depends on cyber technologies, and with it comes hybrid threats and challenges that cannot be addressed with today’s mitigation strategies. As the population around the world is increasing, despite the populist movement and its protectionist ideas, I don’t see how populism can affect the future of the supply chain, other than being an irregular force. The supply chain of services and products will become more complex and human needs more insatiable, so supply chain risk managers need to be more proactive and proactive in their approach.

A few years ago, we learned that 57 million Uber drivers and riders had their information hacked last year, and this is just one of a handful of hacks that affected connected consumers. Traditional supplier matching with an overlay of geocultural/political landscapes to determine the propensity of traditional supply chain threats due to historical events will not be sufficient to position any supply chain to face any dynamic hybrid threats that emerge in the coming days, months or years.

Risk assessment and risk management for hybrid threats is not the same as the traditional threats we have faced before. These unprecedented mixes of non-state actors in terms of threats to supply chains will continue to increase in the future as demographic shifts continue to increase, thereby encouraging greater reliance on scarce resources.

With these new changes in what is expected of supply chains in the future in relation to hybrid threats, supply chain professionals must acquire an additional set of skills to be able to add value in preparing their supply chains for the future and in the bid to create and strengthening supply chain resilience.

Read also: The impact of logistics and supply chains on national security

Supply chain professionals are encouraged to seek new knowledge in economics and trade, national and international politics, data mining and data analytics, digital supply chains, programming and coding to a large extent and, most importantly, a deep understanding of their own geographic political landscape and how it affects on their suppliers and vice versa.

As the future of supply chains will encompass the use of blockchain technology, the Internet of Things, machine learning and all its derivatives, the question we must be prepared to answer is: “How are different organizations preparing their supply chain for the different vulnerabilities that come with these new technologies? ? Has a proper risk assessment been done to assess the level of threat related to the future of the supply chain? Are the supply chain professionals in the organizations trained to face the challenges related to the supply chain in the future? Are the risks worth the effort? What are the types of risks, with what organizations are prepared to deal with offensively?, is the current supply chain resilient enough to be defensive?, what is the cost of allowing some of these threats to fail?’ These and many other questions should be asked as organizations prepare their supply chain for future events.

There is no template or cookie cutter to developing an agile supply chain, as every organization is different. A high risk threat to Company A may be a very low threat to Company B. Ask the right questions and equip professionals with the necessary tools to identify and develop a supply chain that fully understands and considers the dynamics of the environment with the best interests of all stakeholders in mind.

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