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Analysts Answer: What Improvements Can Supply Chains Make to Ensure Success?

September 23, 2020

Contributor: Rama Ramaswami

Even as COVID-19 upends supply chains, it provides an opportunity for supply chain leaders to put major enhancements in place.

Supply chain leaders today must cope with the COVID-19 pandemic while planning for the future growth of their organizations. Ahead of the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, Smarter With Gartner asked Gartner analysts what is the single most important thing that must happen in the next few years to advance supply chain operations. 

Invest in digital infrastructure

Noha Tohamy, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst

The pandemic has underscored the need for data-driven, analytics-enabled supply chains. Many supply chain organizations struggled to sense the unfolding event and respond to changes in market dynamics. Now supply chain organizations must push forward and accelerate their efforts to digitize their supply chains. 

This means more investments in advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and data infrastructure. It also means broader adoption of automated, real-time decision making across the supply chain. And it means committing to upskilling supply chain talent to align with technology. These efforts are essential to withstand and recover from the next disruption.

Nurture talent, teamwork and collaboration

David Gonzalez, Research Vice President

It is the people factor that drives and delivers the supply chain. And the proliferation of digitalization, automation and robotics across the supply chain means the need to develop talented supply chain professionals is greater than ever. 

Chief supply chain officers must create supply functions that nurture the best and brightest diverse talent in an environment that encourages inclusivity and equality for all. Technology will enable our future supply chain professionals to design and deploy more sustainable and resilient supply chains. But technology will never altogether replace the supply chain's human factor.

Dana E. Stiffler, Research Vice President

Much of the cultural resistance to anytime/anywhere work melted away during the pandemic. Now we have to get good at remote work. This calls for supply chain organizations to embrace remote and distributed work as a formal discipline, which includes balancing this with increased flexibility and support for hourly colleagues on the front lines in our physical locations.

Ken Chadwick, Research Vice President

The top challenges for supply chain success often revolve around collaboration and end-to-end decision making, and so leaders should focus here. Supply chains need formal organization changes to: link the end-to-end supply chain; build internal social networks to foster information sharing and collaboration; realign goals and objectives to motivate new behaviors; and hire and reskill to ensure that people are driven and capable of working in teams.

Read more: Strengthen the Supply Chain Talent Pool With Internships

Develop and implement a strong vision

Mike Burkett, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst

The single most important thing to advance the supply chain is to translate a vision into value. While it may sound simple, we see so many supply chain leaders struggle to make this happen. But it starts with daring to have a vision, which requires stepping out of a daily routine to imagine what’s possible. 

Converting this vision to value requires moving beyond experimentation to validating and implementing new ideas. This requires overcoming the many barriers along the way, including resistance to change and fear of failure. Supply chain leaders who can develop the necessary talent and organizational relationships will succeed in translating a great supply chain vision into value.

Support environmental sustainability

Tom Enright, Research Vice President 

Retailers and brands that sell directly to consumers must increasingly incorporate environmental sustainability operations into their business models, especially in relation to last-mile order fulfillment.

Consumers have been flagging their elevating concerns as to the environmental impact of parcel shipments and are looking to: consolidate their orders into fewer shipments; delay the receipt of non-urgent orders so that they can be delivered in the most sustainable fashion; and minimize the use of packaging in the deliveries they receive. Companies that fail to act and continue to relentlessly pursue faster fulfillment across their operations will become increasingly out of step with their consumers’ concerns.

Build a competitive, agile and resilient organization 

Mike Griswold, Research Vice President 

The perception of the supply chain must continue to evolve from solely an execution function to a competitive weapon. With the supply chain as a competitive weapon, organizations can transform business models, support growth and deal with disruptions effectively. Creating this competitive weapon requires organizations to align their digital, business and supply chain strategies as well as aggressively acquire talent in key areas such as advanced analytics.

Steven Steutermann, Managing Vice President

The biggest challenge will be supporting new and shifting product and service portfolios under new realities. While improving resiliency and lowering costs will still be the expectation, supply chain leaders will be challenged to plan and execute against rapid changes to portfolios in response to current and future disruptions. 

Building purposeful supply chain capabilities that align and enable multiple operating models within the portfolio is both the challenge and the opportunity. Developing an efficient, responsive and agile supply chain response based on serving customer needs and applying these capabilities appropriately and on demand to support business goals is key.

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