Supply-chain executives in North America have a lot on their plates these days, to say the least. Trade tensions are pushing businesses to shift supply chains quickly, as well as respond to the never-ending push for productivity improvements — all while political, environmental and economic uncertainty continues to loom. What’s more, today’s digitally connected customers have increasingly higher service expectations, wanting instant delivery to their doorstep, and at a lower price.
The solution to succeeding in this new normal lies in accelerating the transition to a more connected and smarter supply chain, allowing companies to quickly anticipate opportunities and address challenges before they arise. But how? Here are a few tips.
Break down end-to-end information barriers. By eliminating barriers that slow the flow of information between internal functions as well as externally with suppliers, partners and customers, companies can drive toward an integrated supply chain. Increasing transparency and trust across the supply chain is the next step to creating an interconnected and self-orchestrated ecosystem. Data becomes available seamlessly throughout the ecosystem, giving partners simultaneous access to relevant information and enabling optimized decision-making and execution. Frontline workers and executives can better understand how to shift operations when needed, by honing in on the ability to detect changes in demand and issues before they arise.
Use analytics to drive action. Leveraging data and analytics throughout the supply chain is key to fostering visibility, real-time connectivity, and improved predictability. In the process, companies can detect patterns and trigger appropriate responses. Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence are enormously powerful accelerators, with the potential to drive efficient decision-making and enable systems that can autonomously adapt to changing conditions.
Businesses can optimize critical aspects of the supply chain in real time by using technology to interpret massive amounts of raw data. Autonomous course correction can take place with the help of using robotic process automation and A.I.-based decisions to create a self-orchestrated, self-learning supply chain. This allows businesses to quickly pivot their operations as operating conditions or customer preferences change, with limited human intervention.
Engage and upskill the workforce. To create a responsive supply chain, businesses must practice continued innovation through all aspects of the process, from back-end technology to factories, warehouses and the end-customer experience. But the transformation doesn’t just happen. It needs to be people-driven.
By maximizing talent, executives can build a tech-enabled workforce that meets future business needs and keeps pace with looming uncertainties. Upskilling is critical — it’s attractive to potential candidates, builds enthusiasm and confidence among the existing workforce, and develops future leaders who are key in transitioning to a digital supply chain. The effort involves training on digital enablers and fostering an environment of “grass roots” innovation directed toward business-led imperatives.
Tomorrow's supply chains will be connected, self-orchestrated ecosystems, where information flows freely from end to end. Because the supply chain of the future will be fully digital and exceptionally flexible, we can expect these ecosystems to dynamically adapt, with increased use of decentralized and localized manufacturing, and single-piece customization capabilities that can respond quickly to individual customer demands.
As companies digitize their supply chains by increasing transparency, analyzing data and upskilling the workforce, they must also protect their assets by prioritizing cybersecurity and digital privacy.
The only way to operate and thrive in this new normal is for supply chains to become more connected, smarter and faster — more so than ever before.
Mark Hermans is managing director, and Stefan Schrauf is a partner, with PwC.
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