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Skating Towards a Hat Trick in “Really Big” Research Studies

by Mark Atwood  |  March 10, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

I’m a baseball guy, so anyone who knows me well will be surprised by the title of my post. I guess with the pile of snow reaching up to the second floor of my house here in Massachusetts, I have winter sports on the brain. We know only of “hockey hat tricks” in this neck of the woods, I’m sure they exist in football/soccer too, or maybe cricket, but that is another post altogether.

No matter the playing field, the idea of scoring three goals in a game aptly captures the current feeling we have about the primary research we are executing in the run-up to our Supply Chain Executive Conference in May. “Primary” is a type of “dig in, roll up your sleeves” research where we as analysts seek to gain new insights into topics by surveying or interviewing (usually large groups of) respondents. These studies sit on top of all the other research activities that we as analysts participate in. It’s difficult, and it’s time consuming – but we love primary research for the learnings it delivers. By May, the Gartner Supply Chain Research team will have executed three of these large, survey-based projects in 2014 and 2015. The results from these studies have been and will continue to be an invaluable “fact-base” behind some of the issues that we write about and the topics we discuss.

Last year, we completed a Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) study of roughly 200 heads of supply chain, focusing on strategic initiatives, organizational design, and top opportunities and threats. Also in 2014, we undertook a unique survey of 300 North American and European Retailers and Consumer Products (CP) manufacturers, diving deep into the challenges of and best practices in place for Multichannel Fulfillment. And right now we are busy pouring through the results of our third major primary research study in the last year and a half– a survey of 200 SC professionals regarding their use of and future direction for Supply Chain Analytics.

The CSCO study from last year continues to inform our thinking and help us provide guidance for clients. Recently, we’ve been looking especially at how the answers from the respondents in Life Sciences manufacturing (LS) compare and contrast to those answers from respondents in Consumer Products manufacturing. Due to the nature of product delivery in LS in general, these manufacturers have not been able to connect as directly to their “customers” as their CP counterparts have. LS Supply Chains of course look different from those in CP – there are other reasons for this, but this is a key one.

From that study:

• Both industries agree that their top Supply Chain focus is on quality of product supply
• However, CP respondents are focused next on NPI and Product Portfolio Management. For LS, the second most important Supply Chain initiative is asset & inventory optimization
• CP respondents self-report that they believe they have made more progress on S&OP, differentiated customer experience, and segmentation. LS respondents say they are making progress with these, but not to the same extent
• Both groups tell us they have Supply Chain Centers of Excellence (COE), but CP is more likely to have multiple COEs. Further, the CP COEs are more likely to be focused on Supply Chain strategy, whereas the LS COEs are looking at performance management
• Finally, planning has been the most-added “direct report” to LS Supply Chain organizations within the last three years. For CP, their planning capabilities are already more integrated – and in contrast they are now adding technology enablement resources into the Supply Chain organization – partly driven by their desire to connect with the “Digital Consumer”

It will be fascinating to see over the next few years how these areas of focus and initiatives change, as Life Sciences manufacturers looked to pull their demand visibility into sharper focus – through their ongoing efforts internally as well as with healthcare providers, distributors and retailers.

For all three of these studies, we look forward to continuing to share our findings. Our Multichannel Fulfillment and also our Analytics work will be presented at our Phoenix conference in May. Which, I need to keep reminding myself as I look at those colossal snow piles, is really not too far away.

What do you think? Do you agree that Supply Chains for Consumer Products and Life Sciences manufacturing are different – and do you see them getting less so? Do you agree with us that Multichannel Fulfillment and Supply Chain Analytics are “top of mind”? And as we will continue to execute these “must-have” studies moving forward, are there topics that you think deserve to be covered in the future? We welcome your input.


Mark Atwood
Managing VP
11 years at Gartner
24 years IT Industry

Mark Atwood's experience includes more than 23 years of work that spans research, consulting, strategy and operations, and marketing. He also brings an IT end user's perspective to his role. Mr. Atwood is a Managing Vice President within Gartner's Supply Chain Research organization. He is the Team Manager for the Industries Value Chain team, which covers healthcare/life sciences, consumer packaged goods, retail, high tech, industrial, and process chemical from the supply chain perspective. Read Full Bio

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