The Internet Under COVID-19 Pressure: Are SCM Systems Coping?
Aside from a few hiccups, the Internet is by and large coping with the enormous demands being placed on it by billions of people around the world who have been profoundly affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Just to give some idea of what they are facing, these are some of the demands major broadband providers such as China Telecom, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon have to contend with due to complete or partial lockdowns of citizens ordered by various governments:
- Children studying online as part of home schooling
- Employees working from home
- Stuck-at-home online gamers testing the limits of available bandwidth
- People turning in droves to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and other movie streaming sites
- Surging use of cloud-based video services such as Zoom and Cisco WebEx for business conference calls
How Governments and Providers are keeping the World Connected
Internet providers assure us that there is enough bandwidth to cope with the demand. However, with great disparities in the ability of various socio-economic groups to access high-speed broadband, governments and service providers are trying to ensure a reasonable level of connectivity for all.
These are some of the initiatives:
1). Netflix has reduced bit rates of streams in Europe as part of efforts to keep streaming steady in low bandwidth areas.
2). YouTube has reduced the default streaming quality of videos for users worldwide in a bid to limit the strain on global Internet providers.
3). More than 650 companies and associations have signed a Keep Americans Connected Pledge, aimed at protecting US citizens from losses in broadband or telephone connectivity arising from the pandemic.
4). Major US wireless carriers such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, are lifting data caps to allow consumers unlimited usage without extra cost, cancelling late-payment fees, and launching programmes to provide Internet service to low-income citizens.
5). Britain’s main Internet providers have removed data caps on fixed-line broadband, and have agreed to support those customers struggling to pay their bills.
6). In Australia, provider Optus said it would make fixed broadband plans unlimited, while Telstra said it was offering extra data to personal and small-business customers.
There have been some Internet problems, however. In mid-March, Microsoft Teams users in Europe experienced accessibility difficulties. Users in other parts of the world have experienced slow connectivity, especially at peak times when Zoom calls, online learning, and gaming coincide.
How are SCM Systems Managing?
Whether business systems are weathering the storm is of course of primary concern to supply chain managers, especially at a time like this, when stress-testing all links in the chain can facilitate shrewd business continuity decisions.
Currently, it seems that Supply Chain Management Systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are holding their own.
However, online ordering networks are buckling under the strain.
Examples of Online Ordering Issues
Due to tight lockdown restrictions, the swing to online grocery shopping has been unprecedented, with a Nielsen survey showing that in the two weeks ending on March 21, around 35 percent more Americans had shopped online for consumer packaged goods compared with a typical week.
An eMeals survey found that 34 percent of respondents preferred to use an online grocery delivery or pickup service rather than go to the grocery store. However, respondents were unable to find 40 percent of the items they had placed on their shopping list, despite checking two or more stores.
Amazon, meanwhile, announced that it is prioritising the most in-demand items in its warehouses, leading to delivery delays of up to a month on some other items.
Other complaints about online ordering are that available near-time delivery slots are almost non-existent, and delays of an hour or more are being experienced by those trying to place orders by phone.
Human Vulnerability is the Main System Constraint
To meet the surge in online purchasing, companies like Amazon and grocery chain Morrisons are hiring tens of thousands of extra staff and adding more servers to handle the uplift in demand on their websites and apps.
Smaller outfits are following suit but, like the big boys, are finding that many people are reluctant to work in warehouses or carry out deliveries for fear of being infected by COVID-19.
The longer the pandemic continues, and the more ordering groceries online becomes the ‘new normal’, the more likely labour problems will be ironed out, new apps will be developed, and smoother systems will be put in place.
The Coronavirus may have succeeded in disrupting the global economy, but it hasn’t managed to invade the Internet or hack into the World Wide Web—at least not yet.