When “VUCA” is replaced by “BANI”!

BANI dans le Supply Chain Mangement.jpg

The acronym BANI (for Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear and Incomprehensible) is relatively recent.

The use of BANI is not as widespread as other acronyms, such as VUCA (for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). BANI was popularized by American futurist and writer Mike Walsh in his book, “The Algorithmic Leader: How to Be Smart When Machines Are Smarter Than You”, published in 2019. In his book, Walsh uses this acronym to describe characteristics of systems and technologies in an increasingly digital and automated world. He highlights the importance of recognizing these characteristics to better understand the challenges and opportunities we face.

Since then, the term BANI has been used by some experts and thinkers in the field of technology and management to discuss the implications of brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible systems in different fields, including Supply Chain Management. In explaining these challenges, some of these “experts” have a tendency to add layers of concepts upon layers of concepts – until it all turns into a mountain of gibberish!

What “connections” are there between the BANI concept and Supply Chain management?

If we were provocative (which we are not) and adept at shortcuts (even less so), we could imagine a causal link between the anxiety of our Supply Chain managers and the current variability of supply chains. However, we will not be taking this step.

It is clear that supply chain management, in a constantly evolving world, is marked by disruptions and increasing uncertainty. This can no longer be denied! Today, managers and leaders are required to take economic challenges into account holistically. (Triple word count here, for the use of ‘globally’).

“Brittleness” in a supply chain can refer to the vulnerability of systems and processes.

Unforeseen disruptions, such as natural disasters, geopolitical conflicts or supply shortages, a COVID crisis, or even a bulk container ship stuck crosswise in a canal can easily disrupt operations. In order to strengthen the resilience of supply chains, it is essential to develop strategies to diversify supply sources, adopt flexible models and invest in monitoring and early warning mechanisms to detect signs of fragility. Here, we see solutions that are familiar reappearing: multi-sourcing, transparency, risk management and mapping, communication, etc.

“Anxiety” is another relevant dimension for supply chain management.

We wouldn’t go so far as to say that madness is everywhere, but supply chain stakeholders are indeed facing increasing anxiety due to market uncertainty and volatility, changing regulations and customer expectations. So how can we reduce this anxiety? What if we tried to bring the stakeholders together around solid partnerships? And what if we tried to promote transparent communication and strategic planning to anticipate potentially problematic scenarios. And, hey, what if we developed the S&OP processes with key partners, and, well, what if we asked a lot of “What if” questions…?

“Non-linearity” is a further challenge for Supply Chain Management.

The relationships between the different links in the chain do not always follow a predictable linear progression. Fluctuations in demand, external disruptions and unpredictable behavior of stakeholders can lead to disproportionate effects. Businesses must adopt agile and flexible approaches, integrate data analysis tools and develop rapid forecasting and adaptation capabilities to cope with this non-linearity. We could even say that in these times of development of the circular economy, linearity has become obsolete. Obviously, the situation is more nuanced. But all that being said, isn’t it possible that circularity could better control the flow of value? Could this mean that vertical integration has come back into fashion or that our grandmothers’ returnable bottles are making a comeback? No! We wouldn’t go that far.

And, of course, “incomprehensibility” is almost everywhere in supply chains.

Systems and processes are becoming increasingly complex and difficult to understand, especially with technology and automation becoming more and more sophisticated. An obvious solution would be to promote transparency, invest in traceability and visibility technologies, and develop analytical skills to better understand data and trends, which would lead to more informed decision-making. Yes, this is not a bad idea. But another approach would be to develop the simplicity dear to the French philosopher Edgar Morin. We like his idea of keeping a bit of critical vision, rather than letting a machine do all our thinking for us.

What do these BANI concepts actually bring to Supply Chain Mangement, then? 

Understanding the brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible aspects of the supply chain helps in the development of more resilient strategies, strong partnerships and increased agility. We understand that businesses could better anticipate and respond to complex and constantly evolving challenges.

In summary, BANI describes the undesired consequences of our supply chains and the appropriate solutions for them, which we have been employing for ages: transparency, partnership, anticipation, simplification, and skills development, etc. As the saying goes, the best recipes often remain the same…

To conclude with a nudge and a wink: a search for terms related to “BANI and VUCA” brings us to a list of words as creative as they are worrying: “TUNA, DODO, FOMO, COBRA.” We will spare you the definitions here, as our friend Google can easily provide them for you.
What we want to do, in fact, is make a bet: we will wager a euro coin that one day, we will learn about SSCM: Schizophrenic Supply Chain Management. In this futuristic scenario, supply chain managers will no longer need technical experts for help but instead receive “stuffed animals” to console and comfort them – because in the middle of these mountains of data and complexity, the human presence will remain and will be needed to make it all work. At any rate, this is what we would very much like to believe.