The pandemic has brought the issue of security of supply to the forefront. When global value chains could no longer be relied upon, and when small Swedish municipalities ended up far down on the customer lists of large suppliers, it was easy to imagine that in the future it would be everyone for themselves. But building up security of supply for times of crisis actually requires the opposite: cooperation. This is the clear message from RISE, which is preparing for a new role in Sweden’s national defence.
“In a crisis, some goods will run out. In such a situation, it is important to know who has the best capacity to convert their production to produce what is needed. It necessitates cooperation between the public sector and trade and industry. When goods need to be ordered, the right skills and competencies are required for the procurement process, and it is preferable to make a large order. This requires cooperation between municipalities and with other public sector operators. And if you have purchased more than you need, you should then share it with others. This requires even more cooperation.”
The above is the conclusion of Dag Sjöholm, Research and Business Developer at RISE. At the beginning of the pandemic, he co-ordinated the work involved with testing and certifying new personal protective equipment and medical equipment so that it could be put into use swiftly. Now he is preparing the assignment that RISE is proposed to receive as part of the investigation into strengthening the security of supply for the Swedish healthcare system.
“RISE has an overview of the various markets needed by many in an extreme situation. This became clear in the pandemic. When healthcare needed large quantities of new disposable aprons, many considered the plastics industry. But, in reality, it was the food industry, which is accustomed to working with similar safety requirements, that was perhaps best positioned to adapt and help healthcare with that task.”
Inexperienced customers and suppliers require overview and collaboration
Sjöholm describes the difficulties that arise in a crisis when numerous operators need to procure products that they normally do not buy, at least not in the same quantities. An inexperienced customer may find it difficult to set the right requirements. When they meet producers who have converted their production for something new, it can be difficult to obtain the right support. When everything needs to be changed at the same time – business model, manufacturing, and use – an overview and collaborations are required.
“For example, in the beginning of the pandemic, I saw how an operator converted their production to make masks and got them certified. Later, it turned out that what the public sector customer required was a respirator mask, which has a different standard. RISE could have helped more here if we had a clearer supporting role. We already have the contacts and collaboration interfaces, and can activate them quickly in the event of a crisis. This would allow us to identify companies that can help, and we could give them support to increase their capabilities.”
The next crisis will not be like this, and in an unforeseen event, a lot can go wrong.
Unconstrained societal mission
What makes RISE particularly suitable for this task is the overview it possesses as well as its broad role. While authorities are governed by mandates that often have clear limits on scope and sector responsibility, RISE has a more unconstrained societal mission: to support Swedish industry and the public sector. It is also independent and neutral, where no party is favoured at the expense of another.
RISE also conducts research on security of supply and on how robust systems can be built. Its testing operations also include testing of safer digital systems and other things that are particularly important in times of crisis.
“The pandemic has taught the public sector a great deal about requirements and contract formulation, for example. But this isn’t enough. The next crisis will not be like this, and in an unforeseen event, a lot can go wrong. It requires rapid change and it works like other innovations: you don’t do the job yourself – you have to work together, have the right communication channels and know how to proceed and who can help you. And this is something that RISE and its many collaborations with different industries can help with,” concludes Dag Sjöholm.