By Vivek Luthra, Managing Director, Strategy & Consulting, Growth Markets Supply Chain & Operations and Industry X, Accenture
The past year saw pandemic-induced mass disruptions dealing heavy blows to supply chain operations all over the world – and no industry was immune. Even industries previously known to have been resilient amidst economic downturns were caught off-guard. The semiconductor industry, for example, saw revenue projections dip by 12% in 2020.
While the future is thankfully looking a lot brighter, there are many lessons we stand to learn from this black swan event. A key takeaway for global businesses is the critical importance of having next-generation supply chain operations. Without an intelligent supply chain that is customer-centric, smart, agile, resilient and service-oriented, businesses – no matter the industry – face the very real risk of having operations breaking down, something we saw many companies unfortunately fall victim to this past year.
What’s supply chain got to do with it?
Organisations across the region need to build resilience and flexibility into the very core of their business operations to ensure they can keep afloat should similar situations happen in the near future. It is not just pandemics that we need to worry about. The recent blocking of the Suez Canal is another reminder of the importance of being prepared for supply chain disruptions, no matter what form they may take.
Businesses today must adopt a mindset that encourages and embraces continuous innovation to ensure they are adequately prepared for any event and to keep up with changing demands while also turning a profit. In fact, Accenture research shows that 45% of supply chain leaders are worried about meeting increasing customer expectations, and 75% want to rethink supply chains for more resiliency. Supply chains must be able to deeply understand customers, anticipate and shape their short- and long-term needs and engage each customer or customer segment with different service levels.
The time is now
There is perhaps no better time than now to begin augmenting supply chain capabilities, with the recent pandemic boosting the impetus to innovate and potentially minimise internal resistance. With proper planning and implementation, one can join the ranks of agile brands that are operating next-generation supply chains which are primed to anticipate customer needs and deliver the convenience they expect.
Enabling intelligent supply chain operations, however, does not happen overnight. Take the case of one of the world’s biggest multinational e-commerce platform for example – it took the business a decade to build up their platform that offers free shipping, online convenience and a breadth of products.
Thankfully, not all companies will need a decade to transform their supply chains. Organisations can start realising the benefits of intelligent supply chains almost immediately. The key is to start small and scale up over time.
The three building blocks to supply chain success
- Go Asset-Light
To better serve customers in micro-segments with a supply chain network configuration that is complex, flexible, responsible and cost-effective, companies will need to have varied partnerships. This involves leveraging external partners who can share ownership of the networks’ physical assets.
Collaborating across an asset-light ecosystem will allow companies to fulfil individual customer orders by using the best combination of partners to meet service requirements.
To truly be asset-light there will be a need to maintain complete visibility across the supply chain as it ebbs and flows. Key to this will be investing in intelligent operations technologies such as AI and analytics that allow for seamless collaboration and tracking across the entire network no matter how complex it is.
- Grow a Data-Led Workforce
Digital disruption, market volatility and ever-evolving customer expectations add to the growing complexity of managing supply chains. This can prove to be a roadblock to smooth operations and delivery fulfilment.
Today’s organisations need to have the capacity to sense and react to day-to-day deviations. Handling the increasing pressures can be eased by relying on talent that operates with a data-led approach to supply chain management. A central “supply chain control tower” that collates operational data and leverages analytics is a good example of an initiative that can help empower staff to make quicker decisions, respond faster to potential problems, and ultimately increase productivity.
- Promote Continuous Innovation
An “experiment on-the-go” approach can go a long way in keeping companies competitive as the business landscape continually evolves. Businesses may develop innovations on their own, or partner with others in the ecosystem to co-innovate. Progress will come by starting small and testing new concepts, proving outcomes quickly, and then scaling – or stopping – depending on results.
Organisations should look to give employees within the company and the broader ecosystem the means to contribute to supply chain innovation. It is important to overcome failures quickly and reward and celebrate those who share new ideas. An innovative supply chain will enable your business to align strategic priorities internally to serve customer needs more effectively and compete against newer, nimbler competitors.
A lot has changed in just this past year alone. Continually evaluating and evolving your business operations will be key to success in these uncertain times. While there are many ways to start one’s supply chain transformation journey, the most important step… is to get started.
 Semiconductor Companies: Business Resilience in the Wake of COVID-19, 2020
 Accenture CXO Survey, 2020