Future of Supply Chain: Crisis Shapes the Profession

By Michael Uskert | December 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainBeyond Supply Chain

Each year, through the Future of Supply Chain survey and subsequent report, we pause to reflect on how current events are shaping the profession of supply chain. If there is ever a year where reflection is important in charting the future, it is 2020.

The supply chain profession entered the year leading the digitalization of ecosystems, delivering the customer experience, managing trade uncertainty and applying circular economy concepts. We were reshaping how we organize, operate and define the profession. In an unforeseen twist, COVID-19 caused a dramatic shift. It was an unprecedented year marked by the global pandemic that brought over 1.5 million deaths to date and uneven economic impacts. From a business perspective, some industries benefited, many did not. It was a year further punctuated by a polarizing political climate highlighted by a contentious United States presidential election, a slow-moving post-Brexit transition and social upheaval sparked by graphic incidents of brutality rooted in systemic racism.

These events, particularly the pandemic, forced the supply chain to accelerate digital investments, rapidly change delivery models to meet customer demand and predict needs that seemingly shifted overnight. Both positively and negatively, the pandemic prominently placed the supply chain in a spotlight for all to see, underlining the profession’s importance to the masses.

On the positive side, the supply chain profession received more recognition and gratitude from CEOs and the C-suite than ever before. Becoming the face of the COVID-19 response and recovery moved supply chain from the back office to the front office. This presents an opportunity for supply chain executives as companies expect them to expand influence through their organization, but it could also be a challenge for those not ready or able to step forward.

Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, what does the future hold for the supply chain? We believe it is poised to be the profession of the next decade: leading the purpose-driven organization in an environment defined by resilience and agility, all enabled by the power of digitalization.

  • Achieving greater agility and resilience will require operating models that are designed with risk in mind up front. Supply chains implemented to optimize service and cost with a strategy of protecting it from risk as an afterthought will be at a disadvantage to those that optimize for risk and cost to deliver segmented customer service at the onset.
  • Purpose-driven organizations transcend the status quo of bottom-line profits by engaging customers, employees and others in a higher purpose — expressed as the reason for the organization’s existence. Supply chains are fundamental in delivering purpose-driven goals driving how we make, source and deliver new products that serve a higher purpose and maintain economic viability.
  • Digitalization is the key enabler to business opportunities in the next 10 years. Chief supply chain officers, backed by an infusion of investments, will be expected to leverage digitalization to support cost reduction and improve customer experience.

This was certainly a tumultuous year, but it has also given rise to a future full of fresh opportunities, one where the supply chain will play a more prominent role. The supply chain of the future will be tapped to lead the purpose-driven organization in an environment defined by resilience and agility, powered by digitalization. Pacesetters will artfully use digitalization to shape business opportunities in the next decade. This will take the form of leveraging investments to support cost reduction and increase the customer experience, all at a level of acceptable risk. Hyperautomation will be used to rapidly identify and automate all possible non-value-added human activity to remain cost competitive, freeing up people’s time for the value-added work that only humans can perform.

CSCOs, despite the grim backdrop of the pandemic, sit in a prime position to elevate their role within the organization to make our collective futures just a little bit brighter.

As you take stock of 2020 and plan for the year ahead, I wish you and your loved ones a safe and prosperous New Year.

Michael Uskert
Chief of Research
Gartner Supply Chain

Note: For Gartner clients, the full report will be available at the end of the month, and in January for those who participated in the survey.

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