The supply chain leader of the future


Eric Lange


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The supply chain isn’t what it used to be. Before too long, “chain” may be the wrong word entirely. Try “network” or “ecosystem” to describe the complex, dynamic process of getting from raw material to consumer. But whatever you call it, it’s evolving at a breakneck pace, and along with it, a new workforce is emerging.

The future of the supply chain

First, let’s explore what the future of the supply chain could look like. The transformation is already underway. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already beginning to make an impact on how supply chains (and their leaders) operate. One analyst at the Gartner supply chain conference I recently attended made the bold prediction that the supply chain could act autonomously in the next 10 years. Algorithmic, “touchless” supply chains that weave in the power of big data, blockchain, robotics and 3-D printing may soon be the rule rather than the exception. The supply chain of the future is dynamic, always-on, and non-linear. The power to react quickly and make value-based decisions is essential to staying ahead of the market.

But even though the power of technology is integral to the supply chain of the future, the key to successfully transforming the supply chain is a strong pairing of skilled people and cutting-edge technology. The labor supply is shrinking, and highly-skilled, versatile workers are more important than ever. And so, the door opens for a new generation of supply chain leaders. Let’s explore what tomorrow’s supply chain pioneer could look like.

Anatomy of a supply chain visionary

There’s much more than just “supply meeting demand” in the life of a supply chain leader. To lead the way into a transformative future, they need to combine technical and business knowledge with collaboration and communication skills. The ability to influence department leaders that partner with supply chain is key, as well as the skills to interact intelligently with leaders across the organization is essential, because supply chain initiatives often reach across business units. And strong business acumen is a must-have—you’ll be more effective working with your counterparts in finance, sales, and marketing if you can speak their lingo.

The effective supply chain leader of tomorrow is tech-savvy and comfortable working alongside the world of “machines.” When speaking of the potential conflict between man and machine, some have said that artificial intelligence won’t replace managers, but managers who work with AI will replace managers who don’t. This highlights the transformation taking place in supply chain: humanity is essential, but so is technology. It’s not a paradox; it’s the new normal. This leader is digitally dexterous, but also skilled with people. And this leader is a storyteller—digging into the countless layers of the supply chain to find the issues and weaving the right story together to help solve them.

The many-faceted role of a supply chain leader is changing as we speak. To thrive in this new world, supply chain professionals should grow their capacities in collaboration, communication, and leadership, and pair those skills with in-depth technical knowledge to become a powerful force for the future of supply chain management.

Anaplan logoThree steps toward achieving a connected supply chainRead paper

Topic: Supply Chain Management