75 per cent of businesses say they will make changes to supply chain practices based on lessons learned from the pandemic which disrupted operations and surged demand, according to a study by BluJay Solutions.

The supply chain management company commissioned Adelante SCM, in partnership with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), to survey 233 supply chain and logistics professionals in June.

The resulting report, Creating Resilience Amid Disruption: Research on How Supply Chains are Changing for Success and Survival, was released Wednesday and suggests changes are coming to supply chains following COVID-19.

Three quarters of respondents said they expect to make moderate-to-extreme changes, identifying supply chain IT  as the area in most in need of an upgrade.

“Disruption has always been a part of managing the supply chain, but the velocity and scale of disruption that organisations have had to contest within 2020 has been unprecedented,” said Patrick Maley, Chief Marketing Officer at BluJay Solutions.

“Supply chains of almost every company in the world have been impacted, with some halting operations and others struggling to meet unexpected surges in demand.”

Supply chain professionals from industries including manufacturing, retail, and logistics service providers (LSPs) were surveyed, with 233 qualified respondents answering a series of questions about innovation, customer experience, and technology. Participants self-identified their company’s performance relative to industry peers, along with culture relative to technology adoption (Above Average Performers v. Average or Below Average Performers, and Innovators/Early Adopters v. Laggards/Late Majority, respectively). New this year was also a selection for respondents’ generation, to view the data through the lens of generational perspective.

Forging a More Resilient Supply Chain

While on one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a great disruptor of supply chains, it is also serving as a catalyst for change and innovation.

Overall, 75 per cent of the respondents expect to make moderate-to-extreme changes. More than a third of survey respondents (34 per cent) expect their companies will make Many or Extreme changes in how they design and operate their supply chains to become more resilient.

When asked which functions or processes within their supply chain will require the most changes or re-evaluation, respondents rank IT capabilities (61 per cent) and human resources policies (58 per cent) as the top two. For many companies, the quick and unexpected shift to working from home uncovered shortcomings in their HR policies and IT capabilities, especially for companies dependent on on-premise applications that are not accessible via the cloud.

A majority of survey respondents agree that creating a more resilient supply chain begins with developing stronger, more transparent relationships with key suppliers. This was the top-ranked action (53 per cent) that respondents expect to take to create a more resilient supply chain, followed by cross-train employees (49 per cent) and expand/diversify supplier base (43 per cent).

Visibility into demand and supply will be even more critical moving forward; the top four responses point to a key lesson learned from the pandemic: the importance of having real-time visibility to demand and supply in order to respond quickly and efficiently to changing conditions, and the ability to model and simulate different scenarios ahead of time in order to proactively prepare for whatever lies ahead.

Customer Experience Survives the Pandemic

While providing an enhanced customer experience has been particularly difficult during the pandemic due to stockouts and delayed deliveries, companies retain their belief that customer experience will become the number-one brand differentiator over the next five years.

Sixty-two per cent of the survey respondents Agree or Strongly Agree with this – a slight increase from 2019 when 61 per cent responded the same.

As in 2019, there was a notable difference between North American companies and those in the rest of the world (ROW). Once again, a lower percentage of North American companies Agree or Strongly Agree that customer experience will become the number-one brand differentiator compared to ROW companies (59 vs. 67 per cent). The gap between them, however, decreased by 38 per cent compared to 2019.

Emerging Drivers and Barriers to Innovation

Considering the large economic and financial impact of the pandemic, it’s not surprising that reducing costs is the top factor driving supply chain innovation. This year To reduce costs/become more cost competitive ranked first overall with 31 per cent of top-factor votes.

On the flip slide, the top two barriers to innovation were Siloed systems and/or processes (17 per cent), followed by Existing IT systems are outdated (14 per cent), which remained consistent with the previous year’s results.

This year’s research also saw geopolitical factors and trade uncertainty emerge as barriers to innovation. For Innovator/Early Majority companies, Geopolitical and/or trade uncertainty received the most top-barrier votes (16 per cent) while in contrast, this choice received only 7 per cent of top-barrier votes from Laggard/Late Majority companies. These results suggest that global trade issues, like the tariff war between the United States, China, and other countries, as well as Brexit, are hindering innovation at some companies due to ongoing risks and uncertainties.

The Multi-Generational Supply Chain

For this year’s survey, respondents were asked to identify which generation they belong to: Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Millennial (born 1981 – 1996), and Gen Z (1997 – present). Looking at the results from the different generational perspectives provided a view into where supply chain management is headed.

Overall, the two groups in mid-and early-career stages put a stronger emphasis on the value of technology, transparency, and environmental responsibility. Millennials and Generation Z respondents most recognize the importance of Business Intelligence/Analytics/Machine Learning in delivering an enhanced customer experience. While this capability only received 7 per cent of most beneficial votes from Silent/Boomer respondents, it received 24 percent from Millennial/Gen Z respondents.

When it came to the top innovation drivers, To create a competitive advantage received a larger percentage of top-factor votes from Gen X respondents, while To meet sustainability goals received significantly more top-factor votes from Millennial/Gen Z respondents compared with Silent/Boomer and Gen X respondents. Additionally, Silent/Boomer respondents view external trading partners as being a much bigger barrier to innovation than internal functional groups, while Gen X and Millennials/Gen Z respondents believe the opposite.

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