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Wickland Westcott has undertaken a number of global supply chain assignments over the last three years. The demand for supply chain executives is a clear indication of the function’s importance to business performance. Over the last two quarters, however, we have identified a subtle shift in thinking concerning the key priorities and challenges in such roles.    

We define supply chain as the end to end process from design, SIOP through manufacturing/processing to delivery to customer. The trends we are seeing are as follows:

  • Weathering the storm of the global financial crisis has been the focus of over the last three years. The best supply chain executives are able to demonstrate significant cost-down initiatives, bringing leaner practices into play resulting in measurable efficiency improvements.
  • Unpredictability of customer demand has been a key challenge. Unlike previous post-recession recoveries it is as yet hard to detect a steadying of growth and demand trends. There are few signs of any consistency emerging, and managing this ambiguity will continue to differentiate the best executives from the also-rans.
  • Volatility of raw material and other input prices adds further complexity to the mix, as does recent political instability in economies that are major raw material and energy producers, or are regarded as good low-cost production options.
  • Increased pressure from global competition, combined with more stringent regulatory compliance in certain territories is a further dilemma.
  • Although the global recession has shifted some emphasis onto the commercials and away from green considerations, there is an expectation that environmental concerns will again rise up the priority list in the near future.
  • Product and service quality, and speed of response, continue to be the primary commercial drivers for businesses. Supply chain executives who have taken progressive steps to align their systems and processes with customer and market demands have been smart. Those that have packaged and represented these changes in a way that enables their commercial function to use them as a source of competitive advantage have been smarter still.
  • A few companies are beginning to talk about Business Winning and Order Fulfilment as the two main ‘Super Functions’ of the future, whereby the supply chain and operations functions will merge to form the Order Fulfilment component. Those executives that are open to such changes, and have clear ideas about how to initiate and embed such cross-functional collaboration are at the leading edge.

In summary, the growing complexity of the issues surrounding supply chain management requires an increasing level of intellectual rigour. More than ever before, a wide range of functional and commercial considerations now underpin successful supply chain execution. Executives with these talents can be found, but you need to look in the right places, talk their language, and promise them a voice in the strategic and commercial debates.

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