What a Difference Two Years Make: Procurement and Supply Chain Hot Topics 2019 vs. 2021

“COVID has had a sizable impact on businesses” is not a controversial statement. It feels like everything has been turned on its head between early 2020 and the middle of 2021, and supply chains have arguably been one of the hardest hit. Because of all the major changes and disruptions globally and in business, we thought it would be interesting to compare the hot supply chain topics from 2019 to 2021. Specifically, we looked at spring (mid-March through mid-June) of those years.

We made the two different word clouds below using the topics and headlines of blogs and news stories from three prominent procurement and supply chain digital publications during the spring of 2019 and the other from the spring of 2021. Anyone reading this can likely guess which is which. Yes, the blue one on top is the one from 2021.  There are certainly some decided differences between the two, and the immediate differences are obvious.

Clearly, any mention of COVID would be after 2020, and the Suez Canal wasn’t exactly a scorchingly hot topic in 2019. Tariffs, while mentioned in a huge number of articles in 2019, weren’t a significant focus in spring 2021. The differences in the tone of the different blog rolls overall were significant as well. There are certainly far fewer fun, click-friendly articles in 2021. A series on Deadliest Supply Routes or a blog about Instagrammers disrupting flower supply chains are not of much interest in 2021. Also, while an article about reigning in travel spend might have been relevant in 2019, it’s not a topic anybody was talking about in 2021.

Although the hottest topics have changed, the word clouds overall are more two sides of the same coin than they are polar opposites. Sustainability and environmental impacts of supply chains had a significant presence in stories written at both times. Delays were a concern in 2019, but usually they were theoretical worries rather than current dilemmas. Sadly, issues of slavery and other labor abuses are still as relevant and important as they ever were. As many differences as there are between the two, there are still more similarities.

Many of the topics haven’t changed so much as the way they’re framed. Going to on-shore suppliers to support certain communities or going to on-shore suppliers to help mitigate supply chain disruption is the same behavior simply with a different motivation. Supplier diversity was perhaps a good PR angle in 2019, whereas in 2021 it’s also in an effort to add supply chain resilience. The core, ongoing issues haven’t really changed, although the priority of each, or how much we are willing to invest in a given topic, may have shifted. And sure, time-sensitive, operational problems come up that take our attention, but having a resilient supply chain full of responsible, sustainable, and communicative vendors is still the goal.